Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Fear Factor

Most of my reading these days has been about materialist responses to phenomena that is not explained. Perhaps this is because my primary read at the moment is The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake, which I’d mentioned in a previous posting. As a refresher―Sheldrake believes that scientific progress is hindered by materialistic assumptions. When science can’t explain something adequately, or encounters an anomaly, it tends to explain it by saying a. it’s an error or b. it’s a hoax.

The problem with this is that it ignores occurring phenomena simply because it doesn’t fit into a worldview that denies the reality of conscious experience. Denying the reality of conscious experience is quite incredible―we experience it every day, and you wouldn’t have scientific progress if there wasn’t independent conscious thought. It also doesn’t explain things like the placebo effect, psychosomatism, and creative dreams (e.g., dreams that lead to new scientific discoveries).

One of my favorite retorts from both clinical psychologists and scientists when it comes to “paranormal” experience is that only people with active imaginations have such experiences.  So, only people who already believe in ghosts and have active imaginations will actually “see” ghosts, which of course are only figments of the imagination (for example).  They base this on studies that show a correlation between people who have very creative/active imaginations and who also believe in ghosts and other “paranormal” phenomena.

There is a glaring problem with this. From all legitimate paranormal case studies (not proven to be hoaxes) that I’ve read (and I’ve read LOTS),  when people encounter something out of the ordinary, they have two immediate reactions. The first knee-jerk response is to find a logical explanation for the seemingly extraordinary event. If there is no logical explanation, then secrecy becomes the next response, and an implausible logical explanation will likely be invented.

I can tell you as someone who does believe in the possibility of ghosts/spirits, though I’m not sure what they really “are”, and who has an active imagination―I have never assumed at the outset of unusual experiences that they were “paranormal” in any way. If I am in my house, and I hear what sounds like footsteps upstairs, I assume that it’s either a. the cat, or b. the furnace kicking on, or c. the house settling or vibrating due to the passing of a large vehicle on the nearby main road. I happen to live in a very old house, across the street from a cemetery, so I have every imaginative reason to see specters everywhere.

But, like anyone else who encounters such things―a logical explanation is not only likely, it’s highly desired. The unknown brings a fear factor with it. If I hear footsteps in my house, no one is there, and I can’t explain them―that is potentially scary. I will cling to any rational explanation rather than believe that I have some disembodied energy in my house. (Incidentally, I do not believe my house is haunted.)

The secrecy factor often comes in, because those who have the experience doubt their sanity, and think others will doubt them, too. Since time immemorial, anyone who has potentially “touched” the other side is somewhat taboo―this is why the tribal shaman lived alone. Even in an era where such things are not accepted by society, we may be fascinated by someone’s ghost story, but if it is seriously believed, the listeners often think that the experiencer may have “a screw loose”.  This is also a fear response―fear of social rejection.

Another thing to consider is that in many paranormal case studies, the profiles of those having the experiences show people who are anything but irrational. Regular people with regular jobs, no history of mental illness, and in the most intriguing cases, people who were involved in active military service. They have no motivation whatsoever to perpetrate a hoax; in fact, admitting to such an experience is likely to draw very negative consequences. The correlation between imagination, belief and experience strikes me, frankly, as bogus. It’s not borne out by the reports.

Reason, for good or for ill, is a defense mechanism. Like religion, it is a defense against the fear of what isn’t known. In our society, we can’t tolerate not knowing something. We laugh at unknowns (another defense mechanism) because we absolutely cannot admit chaos into the picture. We want nice, neat ordered explanations for everything.

But reality is not always orderly, and what we discover about it through the sciences is not always (and not often) “reasonable” or “logical”. The vehemence with which some people deny the reality of things outside the norm is often amazing to me―it almost seems pathological. Interestingly, the ones who scorn “paranormal” phenomena in many cases often respond when confronted with the paranormal not only with fear but with great hostility and anger. They are sure that SOMEONE is playing a trick, and they’re out for that person’s blood. It’s not funny to them―their fear response has been triggered. If they can’t prove it’s a hoax, they’ll still try to pin it on someone or something, because any rational explanation, no matter how improbable, is better than the alternative.

I should note that “paranormal” is not synonymous with “supernatural”.  “Supernatural” implies something outside of nature, a phenomenon that is not subject to natural laws. “Paranormal” simply means “above the norm”. And it’s silly to say that the paranormal doesn’t “exist”. Of course things happen that are beyond  “norms”. Norms just represent the average experience. I don't believe that anything experienced in the world is supernatural.

I  have always felt that such phenomena should be legitimately explored. Judging from the popularity of series like “Ghost Hunters”, it’s clear that many others feel the same way. People would like a scientific explanation of these things, and would like them to be part of the natural order of things. I am certain these experiences are entirely natural, and could likely be tested through evaluation of individual cases, weeding out ones that are clearly hoaxes or hysteria.  Personally,  I think the answer may lie in depth psychology―the hypothesis of the collective unconscious, and the idea of projecting unconscious content onto the environment (and therefore seeing a “spirit”) is not unreasonable. But serious study will never happen if the unproven assumption continues that there is no reality to “consciousness” as something beyond mere brain function.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


My mind has been a jumble of words lately. “Mere” words? I’ve heard the expression, “action, not words”. We all know about empty rhetoric. But just as seemingly innocuous symbols can be powerful under certain circumstances, words also have power. Words, after all, are a type of symbol themselves—they are our means of communicating our experience of the world, and to some extent define what we think of reality.

Of course, words have limitations. Some experiences cannot be described in words. Poetry is the closest approximation that we can have in words of such experiences. Magic was an art of meaningfully crafted words, but it is one that modern society doesn’t place any stock in. Similarly, oaths and promises made verbally are no good—they must be reinforced on paper. People don’t take the “word” of others very seriously. But just as certain symbols can activate the unconscious, words still have an effect, even if it’s not explicit.

I was discussing Jewish customs with someone, and one thing discussed was the strict adherence to Torah followed by Orthodox Jews. From the point of view of Kabbalah, there is a very important reason for this. There is a Kabbalistic text called Sefer Yetzirah, or “The Book of Formation”. It’s about what it sounds like—the formation of the universe. And what is used to build the universe? The letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in mathematically meaningful patterns, particularly variations of the name YHVH (or IHVH).

From the Sefer Yetzirah (Hermetic Library version) :

He fixed the twenty-two Letters of foundation on the sphere like a wall with 231 gates, and turned the spheres forward and backward. For an illustration may serve the three letters, Gemel, Nun, Ayin. There is nothing better than joy {spelled Ayin-Nun-Gemel in Hebrew} and nothing worse than sorrow or plague {spelled Nun-Gemel-Ayin, in Hebrew}.

But how was it done? He combined, weighed and exchanged: the Aleph with all the other letters in succession, and all the others again with Aleph; Bet with all, and all again with Bet; and so the whole series of Letters {was paired off in very possible way}. Hence it follows that there are 231 formations, and that every creature and every word emanated from one name.

This is in an incredibly complex system, and I will not be able to simplify it here. But if one is familiar with Gematria or Notarikon, one knows that the letters also have numerical values, and the total numerical value of a word can be used to reveal hidden meanings of the word.  A good example from Peter Bull’s gematria site:

Gematria works on the premise that the letters of the alphabet can also be used as numbers, and therefore words and phrases acquire distinctive numerical values. A well known example is that of God, whose name spelt in Hebrew, is IHVH (). The values of these four letters are 10 - 5 - 6 - 5, thus the 'number of His name' is 26. It follows from this, by means of numerical equivalence, that God is identifiable with AHBH and AChD - Love and Unity - because the letter values of these two words sum as 1 + 5 + 2 + 5 and 1 + 8 + 4 = 26.

The Torah as a sacred text is not important simply because it is the “word of God”, but the letters themselves and their word combinations have very deep and important meaning. And thus, if one is an observant Jew, one must not change a letter of the Torah, and must uphold it, because to not uphold it is to threaten the structure of the universe. Magicians who work with Kabbalah work with the letters and their numberings to not only gain secret knowledge, but also to create in their own right.

But the West is not the only civilization that is centered on the alphabet. In the East, the 14 sounds of the Sanskrit alphabet are given by Lord Shiva, who beats them out on his damaru (drum) at the end of his Tandav (cosmic dance of creation and destruction—embodied in the image of Shiva Nataraj).  The 14 basic sounds make up the Maheswara Sutras: “ aiyn rilrk eon aiuc hayavarat lan namanananam jhaban ghadadash jabagadadash khaphachaṭhathacaṭatav kapay sasasr hul “

In addition, the Goddess Kali wears a necklace of skulls or severed heads, each one representing a vibration of a letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. The severed heads represent the destruction of the Ego (as the heads are of demons of the ego such as anger, desire, passion, etc.). Kali herself is beyond Time and Space (“Kala means time, and Kali devours it”), and represents the rawest form of consciousness. The symbol is full of meaning, as the Ego is necessary to life in the world in spite of the limitations created by its “demons”, just as words are necessary even though they are also limited in their means of expressing the ultimate Mystery. Kali slays the demons when the balance of “too much and too little” is upset—the demons should be in balance with the devas (gods, or godly qualities) of the ego, but when the demons take over, Kali appears and destroys them and brings clarity to the soul, getting rid of all temporal distractions. The fact that the heads also represent grammar sounds symbolizes  the loss of speech when one experiences this kind of clarity (among other things).

Finally, there are the sounds of mantras, usually referred to as bijas (seeds)—sounds like aum aim hrim klim krim srim, hum, etc. The vibrations of these sounds are associated with different qualities. Aum is the vibrational sound of the unity of the universe, hence its frequent use in meditation. When chanted properly, these mantras are capable of changing consciousness. This is true both in terms of belief and scientific finding; several studies have been done that demonstrate changes to the brain function as a result of regular meditation.

So, next time you speak, think about the mythical weight and foundation of your words. They have more impact than you might think. Choose them wisely.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Creatively Speaking

Art is a funny thing. It is a term that can encompass so many things, yet we often use it to refer to works created via drawing, painting, sculpture, or some other kind of media involving images.

I have not visited the elementary school that I attended as a child in many years. Yet I am fairly certain that in the halls of Mountview Road Elementary School in Morris Plains, there still hangs a rather faded work of art with my former name on it, and the year, "1981". As I recall, it is a framed image with orange matte (looks more like construction paper) that surrounds images of colorful squares, which are not quite as colorful after 30 years. They weren't even as colorful after 15 years.

The picture was originally hung in the school corridor because it was an art award that I had received. Yes, an award. For ART. The story behind the image is not so exciting. When I was in the 4th grade, our teacher, Mrs. Blauvelt, used to read to us after lunch, mostly (then) new works by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary. While she read, even if I was interested in the story, I would become restless. I noticed that some of the boys in the class would take out a piece of paper and some markers, fill the paper with squares, then color them in. So, I did the same thing. Our art teacher, Mrs. Petronzi, had an extra credit box in her classroom. I would put my name on these and dump them into her extra credit box. Then, at an assembly one day at the end of the school year, I was presented with an art "award" that consisted of her framing 4 of these non-exciting creations into a picture. No one was more surprised than me that I would get any kind of award for this level of sloth.

As I was driving this evening, it occurred to me that this is my immortal legacy to Mountview Road Elementary--a framed picture of crappy squares drawn by someone with what you might call a "manual fixation". My friend has two children with a similar fixation. When we sit around her kitchen table talking, they are compulsively tearing something to bits or taking it apart. We must have sublimated the whole "idle hands are the Devil's workshop" thing. I just don't know that we're usually rewarded for it.

This evening, I drove back to the neighborhood near where I work, to a library where I used to work. I was there to hear my friend Marjorie Keyishian read her poetry, along with another accomplished poet whom I'd never heard/met, Heather Dubrow. Before the reading, I stood out in the hallway with Geraldine, who works at the same university that I do, in continuing education. She pointed out that one of the artworks was from one of our students, and it was beautiful. "It's certainly not anything I could create," I said.

"Now don't you say that. With the right art class, you could do things like that too", she replied.

She may be right. I don't know. Art is something that does have a basic language and technique to it. But I still think the truly talented can transcend that technique naturally, though I suppose like anything else, you may have to know the rules before you can break them. I was an English major in college, but I never took a class on writing. Yet I know how to write. My obnoxiously large vocabulary can probably be attributed to 7 years of Latin classes. Still, the "necessity" of such things I question, though I would imagine classes are necessary if you don't have a natural talent and want to learn. I recall John Leigh Karborn telling me that he had actually taken some art classes and found them thoroughly depressing and confining, so he dropped them. Yet, he does pretty amazing artwork. There are no hard and fast rules for getting it right, it seems.

Creativity is an impulse that springs from the collective unconscious. We use our standards and techniques to modify our creations, though sometimes this isn't necessary. At the poetry reading, someone asked Marge and Heather if they ever had a poem come out right "on the first try". They both said "yes", and Marge added, "about once every 15 years".

I don't know if I can write poetry. I have written poems, but I am unable to judge them. I have taken classes on poetry, and I understand everything about meter, rhyme scheme, form, etc. But I still don't know if I write decent poetry or not. Perhaps I need a writing group for that, or maybe I'm just not confident in my work. In any event, my poetry will likely be confined to my bbfiction blog, or to my notebooks, unless I have a compelling reason to do otherwise.

Heather Dubrow's poetry can be light and humorous, and can also cut like a knife. One of her poems, "motherlove", is about a girl whose father dies, and whose mother seems to have a string of new boyfriends ("uncles"), and not much regard for her. The girl marries a dentist, has a family, eventually gets old and dies. The poem ends with the lines, "We laid her in the cavity they had dug for her / with the headstone she requested, 'beloved wife and mother' / paid for by the children who / could not read what it unsaid." Ouch! But absolutely perfect. Of the strange flower zwartkop aenonium she writes, "No one can believe this flower was ever a virgin."

I have Marjorie Keyishian's earlier book of poetry, "Slow Runner", which has some amazing images from her life, reflections on family, reflections on places. This time she read mostly from "Demeter's Daughter", her current chapbook, which tackles the Demeter/Persephone myth from a very motherly point of view. She envisions her from many perspectives, including that of a young woman going down the the "bowels of the house" to do her laundry, "where machines would wipe / stains away, semen and dirt, tomatoes ... / The hall reeking of cabbage and the oil / Of sardines that leaked out of the tin, was / dim, for the landlord was saving money". She encounters a drunken Hades on the elevator, and a struggle ensues. She also writes about Persephone "going" off to her marriage to Hades (he waits at the bottom of the hill in his dark car), and she, "sits in the kitchen, hands folded / shoulders wrapped in a shawl / crocheted for a girl who's gone / She's dancing or was. A red candle / sheds wax in the shape of tears she / would cry if she were not so cold."

After the reading, I mentioned an alternative interpretation of the myth to Marge, that suggests that Persephone deliberately ate the pomegranate seed to remain in Hades. In one sense, it's the representation of the mother/daughter tension when the daughter grows up. Marjorie said she hadn't thought about it that way, or heard that version. The Demeter/Persephone myth is a critical one to our modern thoughts about females, sex, and death (all of which are associated). And Persephone is one of those key deities that was taken from the underworld and moved to the sky eventually, along with Dionysus, god of wine, fertility, and foreigners. Western culture was never the same after that.

When both women discussed their creative process, it seems to be a combination of inspiration and disciplined technique, and like most works, one is never satisfied with the results. A particularly talented Honors student where I work asked me before he graduated, "When is a piece of writing ever truly finished?" The only answer I could give him was that at some point, you decide you're finished, even if you could say more. Otherwise, the piece becomes the "El Dorado" of your creativity, perpetually over the next hill and never reached. Marge and Heather both alluded to the fact that they still wanted to change poems they'd already published, with the notable exception of things like sonnets, which have a form that they are more or less resigned to accept.

Driving to work each morning, I encounter some beautiful ruins along the road that I take through the mountains. I am determined to photograph these ruins under just the right lighting conditions, and also to paint them. Whether or not the end result will be art will be a weighty matter.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


On a boring, rainy Monday evening, I went poking through some of the dregs of my DVD collection at home. I have a set of videos from a site called Five Minutes to Live, that specializes in weird films and foreign documentaries. My collection includes things like “Dinah Shore’s Portal to Hell” (not an actual show, just a collection of acts on her show)and some very bizarre Christian fundamentalist movies and television shows. These shows are hilariously awful, but they also make you wonder about the people who made them. Do they really think these films are going to make me embrace their religious views? They’re more likely to make me think they are, in Lewis Black’s terminology, “stone cold f**k  nuts”.

One of these films is called “Rock : It’s Your Decision”. There is an obnoxious phrase/meme  going around these days, “first world problems”. This seems to me to be a clear example of a “first world problem”. “Rock music is one of the biggest challenges a Christian teenager faces”, says the minister. Really? Their biggest challenge? Maybe the aborigines had it right when they took teenage boys out and scarified them. That strikes me as more of a legitimate challenge. There is a brilliant dissection of this movie by someone who calls himself the “Cinema Snob”. You can watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

As I was laughing at this stupid film, a more serious thought occurred to me. The youth pastor in this movie encourages young Jeff to make his decisions “backed up by Scriptural passages” in the way that academics back up their arguments with authoritative sources. It suddenly occurred to me what the problem is with this approach.

Biblical scripture is a collection of teachings, ancient laws, and myths. While one could reasonably take some scriptural texts at face value, others are not so simple, especially (as most churches assert) when the text must be taken as a whole. Contrary to Martin Luther’s pleading, the Bible is not a text that clearly and simply speaks for itself. If it did, we would not have volumes and volumes of theological interpretation.

But the problem is not the Bible itself. The problem is the same one faced by science: cultural materialism. Hardcore science people and skeptics hate the fanatically religious, but they do have one thing in common—they are working from the same assumption that there is no existence outside of matter. For the literalist Christian, everything is concrete. Scripture is an account of actual events, and the Bible contains actual instructions. And they always try to defend themselves via materialist methods. Like scientists (who can get a lot farther with this, because they are dealing with the observable world), having an a priori materialistic assumption is going to create problems.

Most fundamentalists don’t even realize that they are materialists. They believe in spirits, angels, demons, and magical places called Heaven and Hell in a very literal sense. Scripture is, in the words of James Simpson, an actual written contract between men and a very materially real God. This is the notion that scientists laugh to scorn—there is no evidence for it whatsoever. Moreover, it is not really a religious viewpoint. Religion, as I’ve said before, is about “linking back” or “tying back” what has been split apart. This is an entirely metaphorical construct, because you are not dealing with something “physical”—it is an idea that centers around the mystery of consciousness and being. It doesn’t properly belong to the realm of science; at best, it is in the realm of phenomenology and analytical psychology. It has nothing to do with the external, observable world or anything “concrete”—it has to do with what Jung terms the “psychical” world—the world of the “psyche”.

The literalist is another version of the materialist—they believe that all of the mythology of scripture has a real, physical, material reality. And this makes them on the defense from both sides, because they are seen as misunderstanding the scripture on the side of religion, and as flat-out factually wrong from the side of science.

This is another archetypal problem. We live in a materialistic culture. One can balance materialism with religion, but many of the monotheisms have fallen into disfavor because of the extreme emphasis on dogma and rules over compassion for the human family as a whole (which should be the function of religion). It is imbalanced, because both the religious and secular world are too materialistic. This is naturally going to lead to extreme responses, as an attempt to rebalance the psyche.

In Jolande Jacobi’s introduction to Jung’s psychology, she says, “Only where faith and dogma have frozen into empty forms—and this is largely the case in our ultra-civilized technological, rational-minded Western world—have they lost their magic power and left man helpless and alone, at the mercy of evil without and within.” (p. 50) Zombie imagery is so very popular because it is a metaphor for this conundrum—the human as the shambling, lifeless dead. One might very well attempt to synthesize these two views by taking an extreme religious viewpoint. This way, they feel they are satisfying both worlds. But in reality, they are just as dead, because such extreme religiosity requires extreme repression of normal instinct in the name of morals. No one wins in these scenarios.

The only way to solve the conundrum is to invent a working mythology of one’s own, or re-invent an existing one. While we share common archetypal ideas, the way that we respond to those ideas will necessarily guide our assumptions about the world, and hence our actions in it. Trying to pump meaning into dead images does not work. Trying to love a deity because you “ought to” does not work. And rejecting the mystery of consciousness and life will leave you empty. A new synthesis has to be found if you want to really live. Not that any one of us has really figured it out yet.

Monday, May 14, 2012


The term "austerity" has been used a lot lately in the media in reference to untangling the mess of world economies. The term implies a sadhuk-like discipline, depriving oneself for one's own good and everyone else's. In Europe, where austerity measures are being considered to deal with the EU's dire economic situation, there is a lot of rebellion and pushback. France elected its first Socialist (and anti-austerity) President in many years, and now Spain is angrily rising up against such austerity measures.

In some cases, austerity on some level may not be off the mark. In the case of Greece (as someone put it) they want the benefits provided by countries like Norway, but they don't want to pay the taxes. The reason many socialist countries have such wonderful benefits is because the people pay a lot of taxes. In exchange, they are guaranteed a certain quality of life--in theory. Sometimes this works out well, other times it does not. Corruption and greed will upset any system.

The logic of austerity says that when money is a problem, you don't spend, and you get rid of things you don't need. On an individual level, this is quite a sensible way of behaving, and even has its own virtuous name: frugality. However, it is not the way to manage organizations or national economies.

John Maynard Keynes has a theory of economics that is gaining popularity again in the face of the global financial crisis. Keynes suggested that restrictive financial decisions on a microeconomic level had negative ramifications on the macroeconomic level. In short--decisions to be frugal and not spend had ramifications for the larger economy. The end result was known as a "general glut" where there is insufficient demand for output, and thus high unemployment ensues, and the economy stagnates. Austerity for the larger group will bring the economy to a standstill. The only way to pump life into the economy is for the larger group--the country's representatives, the government--to spend more money so that those who are frugal because they have less money can go back to spending. Spending is good for business, and generates jobs if there is enough demand.

When governments become austere, then that means money is not flowing to those in need of it, which means spending decreases even more, and unemployment goes up even more. One might argue that we don't have the money; in fact, we DO have the money, we've just also borrowed a lot and have to pay down.  The question of fiscal priority is what is debated, and there's been virtually no logic to that debate at all.

The problem in the U.S. is that Congress refuses to raise taxes on the very rich--not even by a small margin, as the President has suggested. Even that small margin would go a long way towards helping the deficit. Republicans argue that the rich are "job creators" and if they have less money they won't create jobs. But this is just a smokescreen; corporations won't be affected at all by the proposed tax increases. And--a good CEO does not create jobs. His or her job is to run the company with the greatest efficiency, which means spending the least amount of money. The only way a corporation will create jobs is if demand soars, and if no one can purchase products, demand will not go up.

Now jobs could be created by the government. They are in fact the only ones who really CAN create jobs. But in a climate of spending austerity for the government, jobs won't be created. In fact, what we see is people in government jobs being attacked as having too many benefits. In reality, these jobs often provide reasonable benefits for a productive and enjoyable life and career.

Which brings us to another point about austerity--quality of life. If you cut social programs, those who rely on those programs to make ends meet have no opportunity to have any quality of life. It goes back to the Horatio Alger "rags to riches" myth--if you are poor in America, it's OK, because hard work will make you rich. The implied corollary is that those in need of welfare are lazy. But most people in need of welfare work very very hard, and have been denied opportunities that others are fortunate enough to get. Many are disabled either mentally or physically, and can't go to Harvard to become CEO of a big company. And not everyone can do that, anyway--someone has to take the so-called "lesser" jobs. And those jobs frequently don't pay enough to make a living, and may not offer sufficient benefits, if any at all.

Not everyone wants to be an accountant or a Wall Street banker, and in the land of "Opportunity", the "greatest country in the world", we should be able to pursue our own passions and dreams. The taxes we pay support programs that make this possible. Cutting those programs to avoid taxing the rich, whose quality of life would be totally unaffected by the additional tax, demonstrates either incredible ignorance or greed. Which, I should note are 2 of Buddhism's 3 great evils of the world. (Wrath is the 3rd one.)

It's worth noting that we live in a society that attaches real value to monetary value. What I mean is that the more you have/spend, the more you're worth. So--for all my library director colleagues who like to be team players, cut budgets, and "make do with less", the actual unconscious message is, "you don't cost much, so you're not worth much." By contrast, if you spend every penny of your budget and be sure to note that you really NEED this and more (overspending occasionally is good, too), you are likely to not only keep your budget, but get more. If you think I'm wrong--look at how many directors cut their budgets, only to be told, "good, you can cut more next year."

Similarly, poorer people in society who can't spend as much as richer people are unconsciously seen by larger groups as "lesser" in value. How else can a supposedly "Christian" group of people justify giving the rich a break, while imposing further "austerity" on the poor (literally and relatively speaking)? The "poor" must not have as much value because they don't have/spend as much money.

I have probably told the story of Mrs. Takawa, who brought Reiki therapy to the United States from Japan. Mrs. Takawa used to give Reiki Master attunements for free. She quickly discovered that no one wanted them or valued them. So, she decided to start charging $10,000 for them. All of the sudden, people were clamoring for them, and took them seriously. She noted that this was a curiously American trait; I might suggest that it is a curious trait of Western civilization. The Eastern worldview is a bit different.

It's probably worthwhile to think about how we assess "value" and the consequences of imposing "austerity".

Sunday, May 13, 2012


The Vatican recently did an "investigation" of American nuns, and chastised them for spending too much time tending to the poor and needy, and not enough time opposing abortion and gay marriage. Which is a perfect summary of everything that is wrong with the Vatican. The nuns have it right.

There is something archetypal about this, when it comes to unconscious associations with male and female roles. The difference in approach to religious vocation falls right into expected qualities. Male vocations center around "tending the flock" by fencing in the sheep, providing order. Whereas the female vocation is motherly--it is focused on compassion and caring. An excellent clergyperson of either sex balances the qualities of both with equanimity.

However, these days the Vatican is more split than ever. If the pedophilia scandal doesn't demonstrate how removed male and female are from each other in the 21st century Church, the investigation of the nuns should. It's as though they want to stamp out femininity in the Church, except for lip service to the Virgin Mary and the female saints. I've noticed that when the Catholic channel profiles female saints, it is always in terms of their obedience to their superiors. Their own connection to the Divine is given less importance.

It is sad that the Church should fall victim to this split, making it as bad in this respect as conservative Protestantism. Jung had always praised the Church as having all the elements of integrated wholeness. They seem to have forgotten that this is their teaching.

Some of this is related to the age-old split between religion for the "people" and religion for "contemplatives"--popular vs. mystical religion. What people need now is the contemplative version of religion, not the popular one. They do not need to be fed dogmas and admonitions; they need to learn inner silence to be able to hear the voice of God (or the Self, if you prefer). Silence makes you aware of that difficult-to-describe mystery that leads to love of others. This kind of love leads to compassion for others, and spread widely enough, an end to greed, war, hatred, and prejudice. But other motivations have always driven organized religion, and the bigger the group, the worse it gets. The more people giving their light to something, the darker their Shadow.

I have been doing research on the relationship between the feminine and the Shadow. Hades himself notwithstanding, the underworld has a distinctly feminine quality. We talk about various queens of the underworld--Persephone, Hecate, Ereshkigal, to name a few. Fertility and sexuality are seen as dangerous, and also have underworld associations. Much of this may be related to the shift of the underworld from the Earth to the Sky mythologically. Once the mysteries moved to the Sky, anything related to the Earth was either demonized or rendered inferior. And of course, "Mother Earth" is about birth, death, and rebirth--and life in this material world itself. While the Cathars may be long gone, the idea of matter and the material world as "evil" hasn't quite gone away, nor its feminine association.

The gay marriage debate ties into this, as any man or woman who would assume an "opposite" role is treated as unnatural. In fact, there is nothing unnatural about any version of sexuality. Regardless of outward physical manifestation, all humans are both "male" and "female", and one or the other side may express itself dominantly in the psyche. Really, it is a testament to the weight of culture that more people don't fall in love with people of both sexes. The reproductive urge is certainly part of that equation, but in a world that is getting overcrowded, that urge seems to have lessened, and more people getting involved in relationships that are non-reproductive, homosexual or heterosexual.

It is encouraging to see us moving towards a world that is more prone to discarding this outdated tradition. President Obama's open endorsement of gay marriage is a bold step forward in many ways, though we have to ask ourselves why this is even a question in a 21st century that has discarded many other traditions. It's another case where the facts are superseded by tradition, even though no one really understands where the tradition comes from. I cannot resist including Stephen Colbert by way of example here:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Barack Obama's Gay Blasphemy
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Jesus says nothing about homosexuality. It is the book of Leviticus that mentions it, and St. Paul mentions it in one of his letters. But if we look at those sources--Leviticus consists of laws for a nomadic people a couple thousand years ago, and not even observant Jews would follow some of the dictums of that book. For example, I don't know of a Jewish community where it is OK to stone your wife for adultery or sell your female children into slavery. Those things have fallen away with time and progress. And so should the dictum against homosexuality.

As for St. Paul--I have always thought of modern "Christianity" as "Paulism" rather than true Christianity. Paul has become the defining voice in Christian doctrine for both Catholic and Protestant, and this really should be examined. Paul, by the way, was against ALL marriage, not just homosexual ones. He only begrudgingly accepted that heterosexual marriage was a reproductive necessity, and therefore should be carried out but only with strict guidelines.

But even beyond the marriage issue--Paul was chosen as the voice of Christianity by political committee. Not everyone accepted Paul's teachings--some people thought of him as a blasphemer and heretical, most notably John of Patmos, who wrote the Book of Revelation. For more on this, see Elaine Pagels' fantastic new book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. Pagels has done some interesting research, and shows that John of Patmos was very likely not a Christian but a "messianic" Jew, and how the Book of Revelation was used by various Christian figures to support their view of the religion and suppress others. The politics of the New Testament are more surprising than you might imagine.

Nonetheless, in a secular world, the Biblical viewpoint should not be influential in terms of making secular law. This is about legal, secular marriage. If a couple goes to a Church and gets married, without the proper licensing and paperwork with the town, they are not married by law. And they are not required to have a religious ceremony to be married. As churches of all kinds are tax exempt, because they are "exempt" from the secular, their beliefs should not influence laws for the many with differing beliefs. This should just be common sense.

It just convinces me more that we are a society badly in need of balance, on both the religious and secular sides. Traditions should be examined, and ones that no longer serve humanity should be discarded. Examination requires looking at weakness, something the Church has shown itself to be loathe to do time and time again--they prefer to project their weakness onto "Satan's influence in the world," and they're not the only ones. But this is a problem. We are all as much "Satan" as we are "God". Not acknowledging that leads to psychosis--a psychosis that justifies prejudice against others because "they" are capable of evil and "we" are so squeaky clean.

I'll end with this--thanks to Rodney Orpheus for posting this and reminding me of it. It's from the "wickedest man in the world", Aleister Crowley:

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


It's been an interesting last few days. Different events weave themselves together in a common narrative. First, I was getting my car serviced the other day. (And it will have to be back in the shop later this week or by Monday for new transmission fluid lines). While there, I met an interesting woman who was a photo researcher, and knew some people that I was acquainted with. She told me about a book she'd seen on the authoritarian personality. I've studied the authoritarian personality in graduate school. It was Dr. Art Pressley at Drew University who said in his class on Psychology and Violence that "statistically, authoritarian personality types become police officers or ministers." However, I was reminded of the reverse aspect of authoritarianism--the tendency to be obedient to specific instructions, and the ability to disassociate personal responsibility and compassion when following orders.

 This, along with the fear/cognitive dissonance factor, is a huge variable when looking at why anyone can take something like Fox News seriously. There is an unconscious fear of life that people try to conquer via strict control. We all want control of our lives to a certain degree. But many people cannot face the unknown without specific, direct, and forceful instructions. Or, they like to have power over others by giving those instructions. Those who are compassionate may be seen as "weak" and "wishy-washy" because they openly admit that a situation has no specific answer, and that life is more chaotic and unexpected than following neat, orderly patterns. A "template" is desired, and something as complex as life does not have a template. It goes back to what Joseph Campbell said: If your life is going along smoothly, it is probably someone else's life", or someone else's expectations for you. If you are dissatisfied, bravo. You are recognizing that you can stand up and have your own influence, and not merely do what others tell you.

The more uncertain things are, the worse this gets. There was a book written in the 1980s called the "Lucifer Principle" by Howard Bloom (not to be confused with literary critic Harold Bloom). Bloom examined patterns in civilization, and came to the conclusion that societies that were hell-bent on chastising people for their morals were societies in decline. He gave the British Empire's decline as an example, and the poetics of Henley and other fin-de-siecle poets who were a response to the Rossetti's, Wilde, Swinburne, and other "racy" Victorians, blaming their morals for Britain's decline, and certainly the whole "Hail Britannica" nationalism expressed by these counter-writers was indicative of that response. The national myth was unraveling, and someone had to be blamed. Not unlike what's happening in the U.S. now. My friend's fiance posted a video of the Oprah Winfrey show from 1986, featuring Tipper Gore and Jello Biafra among others:

For those of you who don't remember, one of the big 1980s controversies in America was the founding of the PMRC, the "Parents Music Resource Center". Mrs. Gore, then-wife of Senator then Vice President Al Gore, argued that music should be rated in the same way movies and TV were rated, so that parents could be aware of explicit content. Regardless of what she said, the result was a blacklisting by certain artists by the record industry, or forcing them to re-write songs to "clean them up" for the market. Jello Biafra was the singer for the Dead Kennedys, which has been one of my favorite groups over the last 20 years. He did briefly attempt a political career, and also had success with spoken word projects. The Dead Kennedys always come to mind for me when I think of Johnny Ramone's definition of punk: "It's warped-out surf music." Just listen to "Too Drunk to F--k", and you'll hear that in the guitars.

An interesting call comes in during part 3 of this show--a woman gets angry at Biafra because his music caused her son to "pull a knife on his father". Biafra takes a shot at her for bad parenting, and no one will ever know if she was as great as a parent as she seemed to think. Nonetheless, blaming bands for antisocial behavior is really a distraction from the issue. If punk or metal music actually caused this kind of psychotic or criminal behavior, then every child, teen, or twentysomething adult (or older) who heard it would pick up a weapon and start attacking. The fact remains that this just isn't true. It's a convenient scapegoat. For anyone to engage in that type of behavior, something else has to be wrong--whether its a chemical imbalance caused by an archetypal imbalance or something else, the music is merely a reflection, not the cause.

Which brings us back to the Shadow. Between the increase in the xenophobic authoritarian and the idea that we must censor or curb things that are "immoral", both point to a deliberate attempt at repression of things that we don't want to acknowledge are natural. With teens who are experiencing hormonal tsunamis, there needs to be a balance, and this does not involve repression. It involves a means of expression (and creative things like music, art, and writing are great safe ways to express), balanced with a dose of rationality. But it also requires validation, and not treating teenagers like they're psychotic criminals. There has to be understanding of where they are in their development, and space for them to develop. Very disturbing behavior should be addressed (e.g., killing small animals, or other violent behavior towards others), otherwise they should be left alone with whatever music, reading, and style of dress that they choose.

 Punk has always been about questioning authority. This doesn't sit well with authoritarian types. But it's a natural process--there should be a push-pull between cultural ideas. Whatever you believe should be challenged. If it's not, then you are blindly following something, and it doesn't lead to any personal or societal growth. This same woman who was angry at Biafra said that her son's psychiatrist blamed the music for his condition. That psychiatrist should have been stripped of his or her credentials. And clearly they never read D.W. Winnicott, the authority on juvenile psychology. Winnicott goes into great detail about the ways in which adolescents push boundaries, and how it should be handled. (Hint: not the way this mother and psychiatrist handled it.) It makes me think of the ending to that crummy but amazing B-rate movie starring the Ramones, "Rock and Roll High School".

 If a developing adolescent is left to their own cultural devices, they will likely integrate those into a meaningful adult life. If they are repressed, you have a greater possibility of stunted psychological growth, and extreme behavior in younger adults may come out of this. While this is an extreme example, many serial killers lead incredibly repressed lives in the name of "preserving their morals". It is an extreme, but it is instructive of the danger in trying to lock down the expansive psyche too much in the name of fear of difference. A more normal response to repression is hatred of others who are "different". This is hardly a moral response, as far as I'm concerned. Morals are merely an excuse, like "national security".

 It is very hard to be someone of your own. Society is against it, in spite of the value placed on "individualism". Any attempt by parents to mold their child into something they want them to be will inevitably fail. Somewhere along the line, if the child has any mind at all, they will realize they've been living a lie.

I don't mean to say that parents shouldn't try to educate their children in right action and behavior--obviously this is a parental responsibility. But anyone should be wary of putting their own agenda, lost dreams, and fears onto their children. It's impossible to do this perfectly, but from what I've seen, the key is space to grow. Plants kept in a small container, animals kept in small cages--they don't necessarily grow, or their growth is stunted. The biggest fallacy out there is that we must protect our children from some big, bad monster that is Life out there. Children have to take risks, get hurt, make mistakes--even make life decisions that you don't like. Otherwise, they never realize their potential as human beings. There is no protection from "Life".

 And of course, I'm repeating myself when I say, "why should you protect yourself from Life"? Often we are running away from uncomfortable or challenging experiences. Challenges are like initiations that make you a better person. While we don't scarify and beat young boys moving from childhood to adolescence like aboriginal tribes did, there are different forms of scarification. And they're not abuses--they are a normal part of living. To quote Campbell again: "Life is an opera, only it's one that hurts."

Embracing the darkness of life doesn't mean caving in to meaner impulses. It means having an awareness of them, and integrating them productively into our lives. All of the arts afford us an opportunity to do this meaningfully and without harm.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I was at dinner on Friday night, at a French restaurant with 3 other friends. My one friend mentioned that this was the night of the "supermoon", a full moon (in Scorpio) that is astronomically at perigee (closest point to the Earth). If you believe in astrology, this means things will get incredibly intense and emotional during this phase. Whether the supermoon or no, this was very true for me.

Since I've returned from vacation, I've felt like I'm driving full speed at a brick wall. All the decisions I made in January were turned upside down, and now I don't know where I stand on any of them, including situations that I vowed I was done with. There is an excellent video of Carl Jung talking about the archetypes. He talks about the Anima (which would be the Animus in my case), and how when one meets someone who approximates that image, they are hopelessly caught by them and can't get out. "They come to me and say, 'For God's sake doctor, you have to help me.' But there is nothing that can be done. They are captured." I have attempted to wrest myself free of such projections, but I have to say I have not been successful. Whenever I seriously try, I just break down. I must say this is unusual for me, because usually time will loosen the grip. But it hasn't.

In addition, I'm still stuck between the Ph.D. and the counseling degree. The very rational part of me says to go for the counseling degree, and not bother with the Ph.D. It's more practical, has more long term application. But my intuition has kicked into high gear (like it did before I got married, and I stupidly ignored it), and seems to be saying NO, don't do that, you won't be happy.

I suspect this is because much of what is taught in counseling programs is cognitive behavioral therapy. While this has some short term uses, I am dead set against the premises that it is based on. "Psychology" is about working with the "psyche" (loosely translated as "soul"), and modern psychology assumes there is no soul. While there may not literally be a "soul" in the sense that religion has taught (or maybe there is), it is clear that consciousness is a complex thing, and cannot be reduced to a bunch of chemical reactions. Most notably I see cognitive behavioral therapy dealing with suffering in the way an M.D. deals with suffering--prescribe a painkiller. All of their solutions are rational, and the mind is not rational, and reasoning alone does not solve archetypal problems. If it did, none of us would ever have any problems--we'd solve them all nice and neatly. I look at case study after case study in which people do NOT get better from this type of therapy. Whereas I look at journals of Jungian psychiatry (which combines Jungian practice with medication when needed), and find that the "hopelessly" insane become better by drawing pictures of circles and cities and describing their crises in terms of that to the therapist, who has enough sense about the patterns to help show them the way out. In many cases, the person goes back to an entirely normal life. Why should that be the case?

I've been reading a book called "The Science Delusion" by Rupert Sheldrake, a biochemist from Cambridge. Sheldrake is not anti-science; he is anti-materialism. He argues in the book that materialistic/mechanistic assumptions underly modern science, and are not questioned. He points out that these assumptions are unproven, and believing that everything can be materially explained (even though many scientists have failed to do so) actually inhibits scientific progress. Science has to admit what it doesn't know, and not take the material view "on faith". Which is what they're doing. Many hardcore atheists incorrectly assume that this worldview has been proven. It hasn't.

That doesn't mean that a Biblically literal (or any scripturally literal) view is correct, either. These are extreme ends of a spectrum. The truth lies somewhere in between. I have always been interested in the things that don't "fit" in with our current knowledge, that don't pan out neatly in experiments, or entirely defy experimentation. Scientists tend to handle these things by either shrugging and calling them coincidences, or claiming they are hoaxes. Why? Because they don't fit in with a material world view. They are trying to make everything fit that world view, and sorry, I'm just not convinced. I have seen too many things myself that don't "fit", and have read cases of many others that do, and they are not "irrational" dreamers--often they come from very militaristic or scientific backgrounds. Simply sweeping them under the carpet because "they can't be possible because they don't fit my worldview" doesn't make the materialists any better than the uber-religious that insist things have to be true because "their scripture says so".

For me, this has translated to an interest in phenomenology--the study of experiences and patterns of experience. This deals with what may or may not be "factually" true, but is felt to authentically be true. The question becomes--what experiences make people believe certain things so strongly? It is the quest of depth psychology, and the real heart of healing people who feel "split". I don't know what Consciousness is, exactly--I know a lot of metaphors for it. But where it comes from and where it goes to is not a question science has answered. They prefer to believe it isn't real. But they wouldn't be scientists without their consciousness. The answers science has given to this conundrum only raise more questions. In a Psychology Today blog, a neuropsychiatrist admitted that though he acted as if all consciousness had its source in the chemical reactions of the brain, he really had no idea if this was true. We know that these things happen or generate certain reactions, but we don't know why, and it's the chicken and the egg all over again. What comes first?

While I am interested in psychic phenomena, there are so many less controversial things that are mysteries. For instance, psychosomatism. How can people have horrible illnesses that have no physical origin? Never mind your stomach aches, there is a rapid increase in Morgellon's Disease, which produces oozing sores. Not hives, sores. No one knows how these things happen or how to cure them--they have no apparent origin. Giving the sufferers stress-relieving drugs like Xanax or Valium does not usually help. It's not a simple reaction to stress; it's something far more complex and not understood.

In any event, this is where my interests lie, and it's difficult in a scholarly and scientifically materialistic culture to find a niche. Financing is a big part of the problem; I could go to the Jung Institute to become a Jungian therapist, but it will end up costing me $80,000 out of pocket. There are no scholarships or fellowships, and the required therapy isn't covered by insurance. I could get a fully-funded Ph.D. in religion, potentially, but the question of whether or not I'd have to leave my job comes up. They don't generally give you such generous fellowships if you still plan to work full-time. I could still get a research Ph.D. overseas, but then the funding issue comes up again. In short, I have no answers right now, but a lot of energy to get going.

Which brings us full circle (pun intended) to the full moon. Here is a photo of it (courtesy of NASA). I hope your weekend has been less intense than mine.