Monday, April 23, 2007

The West & the Rest

In the West:
sleepwalking full of amnesia,
amid forgotten wisdom and ways;
In the Rest:
holding fast cultural treasures,
for grandchildren's journeys and days;

In the West:
worshipping uncertain futures,
demonizing old ways gone by;
In the Rest:
living in the eternal moment,
timelessness at the foundation of time;

In the West:
mired deeply in matter,
seeking realness in fictional things;
In the Rest:
What’s real is the heart of the matter,
font of mind and life yet unrevealed;

In the West:
sensing our own separate natures,
living solely in substance & time;
In the Rest:
awoken to reality’s vastness,
as a universe spreads out inside.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fixing Humpty Dumpty

Once the eggshell of coevolution between the poles of national life is broken, it is exceedingly difficult to restore the integrity of the shell.

When it comes to human affairs, opposites attract more readily than they repel. This is most fortunate since the energy of attraction is crucial to maintaining the integrity of culture and society. It is particularly necessary in the domestic life of nation states - the most complicated and unstable of human sociopolitical experiments.

The challenge of maintaining cohesion amid the diversity of mass society lies in how people honor their innate differences in language, cultural history and everyday experience. How can they manage to coexist, if not completely in peaceful relations, at least in decent tolerance of their differences?

Yin and Yang

There is little peace or tolerance these days in the Disunited States of America. There are two major opposing camps in conflict on the national stage. “Churchgoers of science” and “scientistic christianists” are engaged in a wide-ranging battle for the hearts and minds of the populace. To further complicate the equation, each camp has its fundamentalists holding to an extreme “one right way” stance, while there are also “relativists” among them, envisioning an harmonious reconciliation of their differences.

Throughout the tumultuous ebb and flow of American society, somehow over the centuries room had been found for reasonable dialogue. While certain flash point events, such as the Civil War/War Between the States, signaled a serious breakdown in communication, the country did manage to restore dialogue and uncertain equilibrium, although at great cost.

Despite our tempers and stupidity, human beings yearn for harmony to prevail. But when communication breaks down, life becomes uncertain - sometimes lethal. We are at such a moment in the collective karma of American Society.

The Iraq War is currently being gladiated at home between neo-biblical, scientific creationists and equally zealous practitioners of mechanistic science and technology. They each espouse schizophrenic fragments of an elusive, unified national dream which, from time to time, regains its relevance in the collective consciousness after our coming to blows.

The Western dance of duality became inevitable when, for the first time in human history, science and religion were fully separated from one another at the advent of the eighteenth century in Europe. Once set onto their differing trajectories, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.”

In an insightful recent essay, Chris Hedges describes the creation science movement among American fundamentalist Christians. He outlines how it has donned the sheep’s clothing of scientific language and method to cover its wolfish appetite for religious and secular influence. I will get to his revelations in a moment, but first, let’s consider the other player in America’s danse macabre.

For hundreds of years, mechanists have held sway over the sciences of life – be they in healing, in explaining the physical nature of reality, or in providing the necessities of shelter, clothing and the like. The mechanized vision of things served effectively in the domain of everyday material experience. From waterwheels to space shuttles, certain seemingly inviolable physical laws appeared to have applied. In the process, the mechanical has deeply come to influence the cultural dimension of life.

Simultaneous to this surge toward the scientific, arose its antidote in the form of (“secular”) humanism. Humanism helped to alleviate the suffering and confusion of the industrial age by injecting a perspective of spirituality and morality, which previously had been the sole provenance of religion. Their ideals had last operated as a unity during the era of European Hermeticism - before the 18th century’s apartheid between science and religion.

With the split between our culture’s scientific and spiritual sides, Humpty Dumpty had his great fall, never again to be restored whole to his perch atop the wall of cultural solidity.

Fixing Humpty Dumpty

Once the eggshell of coevolution between the poles of national life is broken, it is exceedingly difficult to restore the integrity of the shell.

The ideologies of the two camps have seen hundreds of years of their own unique evolution, while fitfully sharing a common mass culture. In the process, they have learned something of how each other thinks and operates. But wielding this common knowledge as a weapon has made the waters of society murky, as they fight over their ideologies in the mud of their cultural pond. To find a solution requires seeing the problem with clear eyes and calm minds – quite the challenge amid all the muck.

Hedges contributes to clarity, by explaining the rising, “Christo-fascist” movement in America to scientific/humanistic readers. It currently promulgates a contemporary version of the Puritan worldview, called Creation Science. This is disseminated through a combination of scientific packaging and mass marketing to a society well tenderized with fear and confusion.

“Creationism is not about offering an alternative,” he writes. “Its goal is the destruction of the core values of the open society--the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense tell you something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to advocate for change… and to accept that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable.”

This ethos is an “article of faith” among scientific humanists. While the biblical picture of reality and the fundamentalist way of life are hardened projections of the ethos of Christian creationists.

The duality dance has taken a new twist in these times. As Hedges observes: “And yet coming from the modern age, these Christo-fascists cannot discount science. They employ jargon, methods and data that appear to be science, to make an argument for creationism… The movement desperately needs the imprint of science to legitimize itself. It achieves this imprint by discrediting real science and claiming creationist science as true science… They seek the imprint of science and scholarship to legitimize myth.”

America has a habit of suddenly switching realities. We reach a social turning point then burst into action, but only to blindly embrace another equally lopsided and fragmented polar picture of reality. We have seen this occur in our lifetimes. From belief in an non-corporeal god of the biblical word, people shifted to the god of physical science - and back again.

These contrasting worldviews are constantly being yelled into every American mind, and in every possible manner. Although their styles and intentions have become increasingly interwoven at the surface of American mass culture, they remain far apart at their roots.

We have taken on incomplete versions of the whole force, which is the natural, holographic union of matter and spirit. In so doing we have perpetrated the ultimate sacrilege – call it the proverbial Fall from the Garden - by cutting each off from the other. By way of this primal apartheid between physical and spiritual modes of knowing, expressing and living, we have fallen into our current Humpty Dumpty conundrum.

What was whole since the beginnings of humankind – the healthful coevolution of matter and spirit - has been ruptured. Can all the king’s horses and and all the kings men put Humpty Dumpty together again? The task is perhaps insurmountable. But we must try; first by coming to awareness, then by right intentions and finally, in the greatest challenge of all, through awakened will.

How to develop awakened will? Willpower is awakened when it is harnessed by the mind and the heart, combined. But our personal and collective wills must be first cleansed of their flawed concepts and intentions. This leads to the goal of what all human spiritual systems recognize as being that of an awakened person.

The Work Ahead

Our European cultural ancestors called it the Work, or the Great Work. They saw life’s personal dimension as spiritual work. This consisted of purificatory acts followed by reintegrative processes of spiritual and physical alchemy. Through its various stages, the adept was transformed into the goal of the Work. This, in its mystical, alchemical form was called the lapis or “stone of the philosophers.” In its personal form, it was the transfigured practitioner, who had attained the lifetime goal of a “glorified body,” from which radiates infinite wisdom and love.

The practitioner of Hermetic alchemy (which by the 18th century had been eviscerated of its spiritual dimension and renamed chemistry) was truly a religious person. Oaths and prayers guided the Work. A coworker of the opposite sex was present at important stages in the process, so as to potentiate, inspire and balance the Work.

The Work honored and involved the unity of male and female principles – call them wisdom and love - in what was the “cold fusion” of its day. But instead of operating solely on the molecular or atomic levels, the alchemists’ reactions operated more significantly on the levels of the vital force of life and consciousness. The latter are of the deepest orders of the quantum world, and include what the celebrated physicist-philosopher David Bohm referred to as energy, pattern and meaning.

It is in all these essential levels of our existence, those of body, soul and spirit, that we now must focus the powers of the will. Whatever one’s spiritual, intellectual or lifestyle tradition may be, each must act - and act with heart and clear headedness. We must draw upon our background resources, be they Christian, Islamic or Judaic; Indigenous, Buddhist, Jain or Hindu. Be one a humanist or religionist; industrialist or craftperson; woman or man; old or young, we each have our ways and skills for doing the Work in the world.

And we certainly have our work cut out for us. In our atomized way of life, each generation must recreate the Work in its own image, through the partnership of wisdom, heart and awakened will.

We have in fact, two kinds of morality, side by side:
one which we preach,
but do not practice,
and another which we practice, but seldom preach.

- Bertrand Russell -

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

What Truth Is

A friend recently remarked: "what the truth is....we don't know," which got me to thinking about the Western reverie called “the truth."

The word "truth" conjures the image of an ironclad ideal, a conceptual firewall standing above imposter hypotheses laying claim to it. But early in the last century, with the simple statement that “matter is both a particle and a wave,” quantum scientists at long last discarded the either/or notion about “the truth.”

In the complementary, nano-world of particle and wave, the truth is found at both extremes of the quantum picture, in fact, at infinite points in between – and simultaneously! The quantum truth about reality may also be described as “neither of the above,” since it originates in the depths of manifestation - before reality splits into duality.

What is the truth? It depends on the perspective of the beholder.

For the average spirituality-seeking American, truth says that Jesus is God; that the messiah is soon to return; that souls abide in heaven and extraterrestrials are out there, somewhere, as well.

These envisionings have become truths to millions of people. In actuality, they are phantasms - mental and volitional projections - which we create because we need them to be there for our peace of mind.

All great spiritual traditions accept their mythic progenitors and gods as being real. But they also teach that there is no difference between the substantial and insubstantial. So their truths and gods come and go in many forms and planes as required.

Quantum science joins mystical spirituality in seeing things as natural projections out from a subtle fundamental state: the font of no-thinged-ness, the divine matrix, the plenum void. For both, truth abides at this sourceground, where all is in flux without any concepts or constructs yet existing.

Navajos, Tibetans, Balinese and Maya are among numerous living peoples of wisdom with a fine grasp of this deep truth. They achieved their understandings through fully-engaged membership in the cycles of earth and sky. From such natural wisdom come visions, stories, dreams.

Consider now the West’s rational, literal-minded mechanists. They comprise the majority of Americans and increasing numbers of people worldwide. Let’s call them “Modernicans.”

Modernicans have the identical cognitive and imaginal faculties as have the Australian Aborigines. Native Australians celebrate the Dreamtime as their spiritual sourceground. We Modernicans also live in the Dreamtime, although we do not realize it. We no longer understand that there is an all-creative, indescribable and immaterial font (quite unlike our personified, monotheistic God) from which all phenomena flow.

Modernicans had lost their foundational spirituality, which held this knowledge, when our European cultural ancestors discarded the spiritual dimension in Hermetic alchemy, renaming it chemistry. There could be no room for the unity of spirit and matter during the Age of “Enlightenment.” But since spirit does indeed matter, they were segregated into the conceptual apartheid systems of church and science.

Still, human beings yearn to be whole; it’s just the way we are wired. We are wired to see spirit amid matter, which are, anyway, one in the same at their root.

How then can one unveil spirit within form? Dreams of events to come and visions of animal or human guides and gods are universally heeded for the purpose. But their qualities and scenarios are determined by the cultural worldview from which they arise.

If that worldview is a picture of a state of wholeness underlying the natural cycles of time and space, then the dreams and visions of its beholders will be of similar character - in harmonious form and flow.

But if the world picture is of a fragmented and disharmonious character then this too is revealed in visions and dreams. In a world picture where time is an arrow, matter is solely material, and reality is predictable, then the old gods will no longer come - except in wounded or mutated form.

What form would the gods project onto a culture where earth and sky are no longer understood to be in oneness? Might they be beautiful but fierce; innocent but faulted? Certainly, they would take on iconic forms from the presiding mass culture.

Should the Modernican gods-to-come look like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, or even those cute bug-eyed ETs, this would work - so long as they are known spiritually, as projections of consciousness, species and culture.

However, without a wholesome worldview in which to find meaning and completion, we will continue to frantically search for truth in channeling Egyptian or Native American princesses, or in being startled by the veiled light of our own minds reflected in UFO sightings.

But, what of the inner meanings of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker? Will they serve us as helpful symbols of dualistic power and personal polar tendencies? Or, having become familiar to so many people via the cinema, are we now them and they us, but without understanding how and why this is so?

The world picture of the Modernicans describes a galactic reality in explosion and implosion, conflict and competition. It portrays massive hungering for more, for bigger and better things, experiences and worlds. It is a reality scenario underpinned by craving, frustration and confusion.

This is not the image of Native America’s world reality. There, animals, humans and gods move as relatives, in synchrony with the inexorable cycles of time and within the sacred embrace of earth and sky.

Nor is it the Tibetans’ all creative, timeless-formless state underlying space-time - and all that it contains. Both visions derive from their cultural and individual imaginations. They describe a wholesome and awesome world, which many people would appreciate and enjoy.

The reality that Modernicans see, likewise, is a projection of their individual and cultural essence. But this universe is in continued disorder, collapse and recovery. It is full with stories of empires and rebels, and of demi-gods (more recently extraterrestrials) bringing dangerous knowledge and power to earthlings while they walk among us in human disguise.

It actually sounds much like the way indigenous people had perceived the Modernicans to be, during the early years of contact and colonization. At first encounter, the white men seemed to the Native people to be quite the non-human horde, with an incomprehensible worldview, a bizarre god and alien ways of life.

Perhaps it’s time that we take a long hard look at our ourselves through others’ eyes, in partnership with the powers of our own imaginations. There is much to see and learn. Perhaps we may yet awaken from our sleepwalking haze to find a deeper and more meaningful sense of the truth.

All we have are our visions and dreams. We dream throughout the dance of life. What is truth and what’s the dream? Ay, there's the rub.

Beauty I’d always missed with these eyes before,
Just what the truth is I can’t say anymore.
- The Moody Blues,
Nights in White Satin -

Here we are on a dream caravan;
a caravan but a dream, a dream but a caravan…
- Sufi verse -