Path of Peace

“His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.”
Magnificat of Mary, Luke, Chapter 1

“…for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush Monticello

 

I never thought I would live to see the day nuclear weapons would be discussed by a world leader in a tweet – twinkle dust text. Burning may well be the most painful way to die. Cancerous pain accompanied by teeth and hair falling out due to nuclear fallout is a close second. The birth deformities for the survivors of a nuclear bomb are a living horror, take a look if you can stomach it.

I’ve been talking about the difference between things you can put in a wheelbarrow and abstract ideas that exist nowhere except in the human mind. It is altogether too easy to allow ourselves to wrap phenomenon with profound implications in the real world into nice sounding terms that are dangerously abstract: climate change, the sixth extinction, war. In part we do so of necessity. A good abstraction retains the essence of the subject while making it simple enough to allow us to communicate successfully with one another as we explore it in depth. Without some abstraction the details of any item in the molecular world we might wish to discuss would overwhelm us. History, philosophy and scientific insight are all characterized primarily by our skill in creating the right kind of abstractions.

There is another, more seductive aspect of this process of cognitive abstraction however. It can provide the wielder of the terms a false sense of having power over what they refer to. I call it a seduction because it tempts us to hubris exactly where humility would better serve our developing a true understanding.

These seductive terms can be used to bypass cognition’s critical and skeptical skills. They can appeal directly to the emotions and trigger a wide range of physiological states including fear, paranoid suspicion, fellow-feeling with the amassed crowd, and the strength of the vigilante mob mind. Used by the unscrupulous these seductive terms become cognitive weapons. They provoke extreme thoughts and emotions within the listeners. Actions follow the mind, as the Buddha taught, and wisdom is found along the middle way. Extreme thought and emotion lead to people acting out, acting extreme. Some of these potentially seductive terms which should be handled with great care, in my opinion, include ‘god’ and ‘nuclear weapons.’

Armageddon has been festering in the images and imagination of the world ever since 1945. The fireball has become entwined in the minds of many with god’s plan for the earth; a final showdown between the good guys and the bad guys. Somehow, under the kindly direction of a society lead by arms manufacturers above all others, we have managed to condense centuries of Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions and teachings into this. What was a splinter theological position has become the working currency of religious thought for the man in the street the world over. What a mixed up theology that is. The Left Behind series, among the best selling books of all time, is a study in how to mix up the planes. Evidently there really are some among us who think that if we let the nuclear bombs fly, god will catch them or some such; direct them, use them, aim them? I’m not quite sure, the whole psychotic concept strikes me as a Tar Baby like morass. It is a dangerous delusion to imagine that a nuclear exchange will make Jesus come back from the sky, or cause the long awaited Messiah to finally appear, or bring to earth the supreme Caliphate. I do not think this is worthy of the adult reasoning we are capable of, nor is it worthy of the rich religious traditions these childishly simple ideas use like a parasite uses its host.

As we complete the winter holiday season we would do well to meditate on the core message about peace on earth. Don’t let them sell you a ticket to paradise. In the quiet of your own subjectivity you stand on the shared ground of all human beings, equal. The rich and powerful, while playing with powers they can barely understand, are not spared tears, fears, or suffering due to their wealth and influence. And what of the poor and powerless? The battlefield casualty is not only an individual dying, though of course they are that. They are also a part of us, a shared bloody stain we all carry inside. As mentioned last week, the shaman understands this inner world where it is clearly the truth that the happiness of the ninety-nine cannot be complete without the healing of the lost one. It is the nature of the mind, the nature of the familial species that we are.

I think it is important for all those who deeply love the earth and love their children to become very clear about their commitments to these things. Refuse to let seductive abstractions steal your awareness away from the reality of the molecular world and its elemental power of manifest intelligence. These are our allies against ignorance.

The shaman finds all things real, even real imagination such as we have been discussing, for these imaginings too are things that really happen. The shaman works to find the real by calling the unreal non-existent. By seeking out the real the shaman takes a seat of sorts in his or her heart, the center of their being. Though Christ is the western shaman, as we discussed last week, the teaching is that all are called to participate, to complete the sufferings of Christ with our own. Our mental, physical and emotional joys and sufferings, what do they mean? Our encounter as individuals with the collective stories of our shaman involve encounters with our conscience, but in a manner very nuanced. Society is full of mind games: burdens are injected into young and vulnerable psyches; sins are passed along anew to the seventh generation – all this complicates the judgment of the heart in the halls of Amenti. It makes the final, absolute assignment of innocence and guilt rather tricky. Here, with the proper view of the real world of abuse and consequences, suffering evokes compassion. The shamans teach us that to live with heart, that is with compassion, is to carry the sun into midnight. A lantern. A single star in sight, over a manger, as they say this time of year.

At some point whatever good you can do with your life will fade, as will whatever evil. Each of your actions will become a part of the whole; this inherited bundle of causes and effects each generation receives from the past. Your individual deeds will weigh in, but only as a part of the ongoing fight of the shaman Christ light against the darkness aka as a part of the big picture scheme of things that includes this whole journey through deep space and deep time the human race is on. This picture is so big only myth can begin to capture it at all, it dwells forever on the threshold of what we can conceptualize. Myth like this is not asking us to pretend to believe in things we cannot. It is sketching out a way in which each individual might fill in their own wheelbarrow, as it were. They offer a framework in which the real events of individual experience can be laid out in such a way that they might lead individuals to healing and wisdom.

The Christ light of myth speaks a poetic truth about where the ego cannot go. The body that sweat tears of blood in prayer and was “pierced and given up for you” shows us something so simple really: that god is also in the death and pain of human experience. The Christ light, as mentioned last week, comes to banish the devil from death, to break the devil’s hold over death. Men fighting these dark superstitions were meant to be the “balm  of the nations.” Un-possessed by extreme cognitions and emotions – the embodiments of the archetypal gods and demons – individuals of all races and creeds were called to “Come, let us reason together.” Why? to seek peace.

The mythic Christ light goes beyond the reality based ego. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see god.” Here, where poetry and dreams come from, dwells his peace, the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” Our western shaman has returned with the boon: “my peace I give you.”

Our myths are here to teach us about the meaning of our existence, to teach us to trust and have faith in what the human adventure is all about. It is a mistake to use them as we do, as if they could shield us from the clear consequences of our actions. This leads me to suggest another very simple truth that can act as a boulder for the contemplative: reason guiding compassion is the path of peace.

Does this seem too simple? What alternative would you offer?

Our Shaman

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things”
Isaiah 45:7 KJV

“You can’t get there from here, and besides there is no where else to go.”
Sheldon Kopp, No Hidden Meanings

 

Christmas can be a hard time for many western Buddhists. Some of this is from family issues, some of it from toxic encounters with Christianity itself. We have touched on family issues and how the contemplative runs into them under the tutelage of training in compassion. I want to talk now about the toxic twisting of a Christianity too often co-opted by patriarchy and consumerism or used by others to play out the needs of their own neurosis.

A lot of this sour taste for Christianity comes from those of its salesmen (or women) that insist you need to be a Christian or else your going to hell. What a mixed up theology that is. That is using religion as a magic stick to torment and control others. What the theology was meant to convey, far as I can tell, was that if you are not a Christian you are already in hell. Or, equally, if you find yourself in a living hell the way out is to become a Christian. This followed naturally from the definition of Christian that was being used, namely, anyone who had faith that in the end the good guys win. Saying yes and thank you to the new day after a long, dark night of the soul – this is the morning of resurrection, something often very hard to find. When it comes, it seems to come as a gift, a grace given to the brokenhearted. The idea of who was and was not a Christian was here very catholic. It is one that applies to anyone in any time who comes to believe that in the final analysis life, the universe and everything, just as it is, is worth experiencing. It is the conviction that it is good, that in some fashion that far exceeds our intellectual grasp, our lives and loves are precious and meaningful.

Those who would dare to bully others by using god as their beat stick have confused one definition of what it means to be Christian, a member of a particular institution, with this other which was much more universal in its motivation and meaning. I think there is a lot of this mixing up the planes which has all but completely obscured some enlightening messages we would do well to remember. In this post I am going to try and use the voice of the western tradition to talk to the themes important in every tradition. We don’t integrate Buddhism with western thought by tossing Christianity out. In my admittedly limited and dim view, there seems a way in which their reconciliation works. Is it a particle or a wave? Buddhism speaks to what it means to be fully human, and speaks of it as being mindful and awake to the precious sacredness of the world here and now. Christianity speaks mythically of that which is sacred and precious in every human, and speaks of it that we might recognize how the divine god, creator of the world, lives right here and now in everyone we meet.

With the winter solstice darkness has gone as far as it is allowed to go in its absorption of the day. Though the sunlight hours have been growing fewer and fewer, they never wholly disappeared and now, at this very moment, the balance between night and day ever so slowly begins to tip the other direction.

The ancient conception of the universe and man’s place within it held to a number of ideas we would directly recognize. Previous posts touched on the parallels between the Christian and Egyptian holy families and the stories told about their dying and rising god men. Works like Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ, while hardly recommended for their conclusions, are useful for the summary they provide of other religious scholars data collection. They make the case that the key components of the mythical roles that Christ as the man-god fulfills are found assigned to Horus or Osiris as well as to Jesus. In other words, according to this reading of the evidence, the core western tradition we find in Christianity has western roots leading as far back as the archeologists can take us.

It is helpful to recognize that anything as long lasting and pervasive as a religious tradition that has spanned east and west for centuries will have a very rich and multifaceted presence. Different aspects of the western tradition have been emphasized at different times. I would like to suggest at minimum it is helpful to recognize three parts, that while they work together, each present fairly distinct teachings. The three are redemption, creation, and defeat of the powers.

Today when Christianity is discussed it is almost exclusively under its redemption mode. The whole of our mythic inheritance, for many people, consists of little more than a set of shoulds and should-nots. Religion, for these people, is what children are taught in Sunday school; be good little boys and girls and god will like you and you’ll get to go to heaven; be bad ones and you will go to hell. This is foolishly childish magical thinking which amounts to not much more than the ‘better be a Christian or you’ll go to hell’ magical beat stick we mentioned already. It captures the outer form but fails entirely to convey the essential point of the Christian conception of sin. This is not what I want to focus on in this essay but because there is so much confusion and pain around this topic a quick reminder of orthodoxy is in order. By the Christian view each human baby is created a loved child of god. The purpose of having created you and I, as well as every bird, worm, and wolf, is so that we can be happy. This is not easy nor is it always possible, but even then nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ.” That is, nothing can ever separate that which finds itself created amidst life, love and light from the life-love-light creator. This is a western version of a selflessness teaching. Sin is taught to be a collective problem that came into the world with Adam – not you – and was removed from the world with Christ – again not you. This view, properly understood, is as far from the Sunday schoolmarm trying to get rambunctious kids to make decent choices by threatening hell fire as it is possible to get. It is very adult, a teaching of freedom for free people.

The redemption story is concerned with forgiveness, vicarious sacrifice of the scapegoat, and tellingly, is the aspect of the mythology most able to be turned to good effect for supporting the ongoing viability of the church as a social institution. The presentation of the Christ as redeemer of sinners uses guilt and sorrow, human regrets and the hope that we can do better tomorrow they cause. All of this has a vital role to play in the psychology of the church’s members. Yet, just because this is true it also lends itself to being abused, to being used to enslave rather than liberate. The classic image of a corrupt Catholic church selling indulgences, more to line its own pockets than to bring peace to its congregations, captures the shadow side well enough.

There is another set of teachings in the same Christian tradition that is less capable of being used to prop up sociological institutions. These are the ones related to what we are exploring in mindful ecology and deal with what is sometimes referred to as creation spirituality. St. Francis’s sermon to the birds and Pope Francis’ recent encyclical addressing ecology are both representatives of this current. In my opinion this mode of expressing religious sensibilities is only going to grow stronger as the years of limits to growth’s inflections go by. We have spoken of it a little already and will pick it up again by and by.

It is the third mode, however, that has most relevance on the solstice. It is concerned with the meaning of the descent of the Christ into hell and the ascent of the Christ into heaven. By these activities, it is said, the man-god defeats the demons and devils of hell and causes the angels, principalities and thrones to worship him. He returns to us with a boon from his healing work, a peace that “surpasses all understanding.” Do you see what is involved here? Christ is the western world’s shaman.

One of the Tibetan Buddhist prayers is for any who do not have their own protector. Jesus is the shaman that is the final protector of the lost. This is all about the last shall be first, how those who cry out ‘Lord, Lord’ do not know him, how he is the shepherd that leaves the ninety-nine in search of the lost one. Remember our discussion about how the shadow is 90% gold? Remember the biology of violence and the very real multi-generational “sin” we touched on? The final truth of things is far from clear cut in the place where mythic story touches on molecular history. It is the Christ who goes the last bloody steps with those who tread in blood themselves.

Reading the earliest works of the Christian world it cannot help but strike one as odd that the church fathers went on and on about how with the coming of Christ the kingdoms of magic and superstition had fallen. They discussed this by talking about how the invisible powers would be (or had been) overthrown. Those powers were not conceived of as spooky, ephemeral spirits such as a medium might channel, but as the very real deathless gestalts of institutional power. The angels, archangels, choirs of angels, principalities and powers all represented what we would recognize as emergent phenomenon. They were presented in a hierarchy of ordered creation, the so-called great chain of being. These angelic beings were said to represent a people, or a nation, a city or a family. They were related to the starry heavens as the place where astrological forces determined the fate of all that happens on the earth. The fall of Rome was taken by the early Christians as a result or illustration of the Christ defeating the powers. All this was rather common currency among the ideas of the time.

The main message of the of the Christ, pagan or otherwise, has been said many ways. I like ‘the sun at midnight is always the sun’ as it captures both the underworld journey of the boat of Ra, alludes to the Copernican revolution, is itself a quote from the Hellenistic mysteries and includes the essence of what I understand about the work of our shaman Christ. This work banishes the darkness of hell and reveals the darkness of night; aka reality is blessed just as it is, though there is darkness in it. But that is the darkness of the broken heart, a darkness without the devils, demons, and ghosts of our fears. Those are no more real than the horns of a rabbit. They are produced by a  mistaken view of things. The boon the Christ brings us is the good news that creation is ultimately gracious not malign, that we can call the creator Abba, not monster. The power of the mind-spooks’ bewitching develry depends on the idea that the other side (or eternity) is somehow more real than this world of flesh and blood that we deal with everyday. The Christ light comes to call BS on all that. The passion of Christ shows, in no uncertain terms, that living includes dying. It is a package deal – but death is not the devil. Even god must die.

Christianity teaches that death is rest, peace. Life itself, that which sees through your eyes, feels through your hands – it does not taste death at all. And that which does die, this mystery that is our existing at all, this mystery ends in a beatific vision. The beatific vision is the teaching that for each and every consciousness that has ever awoken on god’s green earth there will be a reunion with that which created it. From dust to dust. In the process our unique longings for love are fulfilled by our expressions of love, for it is taught that god is love. Love mystically embraces the soul, spirit and body in death in what is taught to be a marriage celestial. In this that which has been created is always the bride, passive to the touch of its creator’s kiss of dissolution. As I understand Dante’s celestial rose, this teaching of the final beatific vision in the life of a soul, it is a view from individual love, our own very personal vision of god, that is, how everything in our life was actually perfect.

Perfect? Well it was needed in the great work. To use western terms we could say god’s plan required it to be just so. In eastern terms we would say each event had to be the way it had to be to do its part in the all pervasive interdependent way of the Dharma or Tao. How do we know each thing that happened to us and within us and because of us was needed in the great scheme of things? Because they happened, really happened. Reality reveals complete interdependence. Whatever really happened stands under the creator’s purview, without one set of rabbit horns to be found anywhere.

However, the death is real. When a loved one is lost, as the poets say, god is the first to cry. The loss and the heartbreak, for those who remain among the living, is real. But, as anyone who has lost someone dear has learned, it is also true that in a very real way those people remain alive in our hearts. In the Christ myth, after the death of god, the disciples learned not to look into necromantic arts full of sigils and magic circles, books of the dead full of spells or any of the other tomfoolery centuries of superstition had burdened death and dying with. They found, it is said, an empty tomb because they too found their beloved teacher, their shaman, still alive in their hearts.

Buddhist eastern thought touches the same things in its teachings about rebirth where you come back but as someone else because, you see, you have no independent, unchanging self. The eastern teachings that include reincarnations, Hindu and Buddhist, also include the idea of eventually leaving the wheel of rebirth in a state of final nirvana or parinirvana. Is this so different than the final rest Christianity also teaches about, the peace which surpasses all understanding?

In all this it is easy enough the see the same mythic accounting for both the reality of death and the reality of ongoing life. Today we would touch on these things by talking about evolutionary deep time and the DNA: this mystery which has never itself tasted death and yet has only ever been expressed through unique individual incarnations each destined to die.

What east and west are affirming through these mythic teachings is that life is worth living. That it is worth living in spite of the fact that love must die. We are called to walk the path of beauty with a noble heart and live in a sacred world.

I offer you this to contemplate as my holiday gift. The sun in the sky also burns in our chests, sparks of stars that we are as molecular elemental beings. We walk the path that suspends these cosmic fingerprints between the earth and the sky, body and thought, perception and emotion. We live and move and have our being held between the ever embracing mother earth and father sky. Love, sometimes dark and elemental and other times light like a rainbow, really is all around us.

Cruelty and Compassion

Ego rightly fears the highs and lows of emotions by which the psyche can be carried away. Crimes of hot passion and cold revenge haunt our history books. Overwhelmed by grief the ego has been dragged to hell, overwhelmed by bliss it has been transported to heaven. Until it has plumbed the heights and depths itself and extended its compassion to all the parts found within, that fear of being overwhelmed by what has been repressed remains. The Self seems to guide the ego along the lines of overcoming these fears, given the chance. Along the way our conception of who and what we are remains, of necessity, mundane and restricted. Our conception of the universe we find ourselves in also remains similarly mundane and restricted. When we look into our minds and allow only a small glimpse of their potential to effect us, we intentionally narrow our view. A larger glimpse of their potential can lead to a larger view.

Most often we narrow our view by turning our attention to ourselves. We ruminate about our life stories; replaying past events and imagining future ones. This is how we learn and set the goals by which we energize the present moment. There is nothing inherently wrong about these types of cognitive activities; they are what the mind naturally does when placed more or less in neutral, unless the mind is unaffected by fear. Without fear the mind more naturally turns its attention out away from one’s own life story. In neutral it then unleashes its inborn curiosity and ponders this existence we find ourselves a part of. Contemplation along these lines can lead to gratitude and awe born from a profound respect for the intelligent pattern everywhere displayed.

The logical third possibility is that the contents of narrow attention will consist of some combination of ego considerations and an awareness of the vast environment it finds itself a part of. Here, at the interface, is where so many of our deepest dissatisfactions with our existence arise. It seems as though we rarely can get what we most deeply long for from the universe. Peace and contentment escape us for we cannot long rest content with our achievements, nor can we avoid the heart rending suffering of love lost for long. Many of our most basic needs and desires are related to our relationships with other people, but other people do not appreciate us enough and the world certainly is not giving us our proper due… All these kinds of thoughts come naturally to the ego and provide it with the fuel it uses to get up off the couch and work hard to make things a bit better.

This, however, is not optimal. To be inspired by the energy of what is basically a childish temper tantrum is to be enslaved by one’s own existence. Gratitude and awe before the vast reaches of inner and outer space is a much more liberating psychology from which the ego can live. Moving the ego’s center of gravity from the tantrum to the gratitude requires that it comes to know it is valued, just as it is. It needs to come to know it is loved by god as a child of god, as it is said in western religious terms. It needs to come to know it is valued as a Bodhisattva in training, as it is said in eastern terms. It needs to fight off the inner bullies that would wound its very being with shame and deny it has any right to exist, as it is said in psychological terms.

The modern view of that which is real is so vast in time and in space that it intimidates us. It threatens us with such minuteness that we fear our lives to be little more than meaningless grains of sand, specs of dust in the wind. It is worth noting that this cosmic vastness has been part of the view of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism since their inception. Both of these eastern traditions are rich in teachings that point to the inner world of the psyche as being equally vast and finding thereby some measure of belonging within the infinities which surround us on all sides. This is in no small part where the differences between the psychology of the east and the psychology of the west have their roots. Modern cosmology has brought the eastern view to the west. It can shake the girders of our souls, waken us from our dogmatic slumbers, if we let it.

Ego works hard to find love and food, shelter and some sense of meaningful participation with the rest of the world. Where it fits in the vast cosmic panorama is harder to say, whereas what it needs to do today is usually rather clear. It is not easy to be self-conscious. Touched by sorrow the ego has tasted hell, touched by love it has tasted heaven. As mentioned, overwhelmed by grief it has been dragged to hell, overwhelmed by bliss it has been transported to heaven. All this has taken place without ever once setting foot anywhere but on the solid ground of this very earth on which we live. Where the human being fits in this vast cosmic panorama is hard to say, but it is the nature of our minds that each of us must take these journeys of the soul into the outer reaches. No one wholly escapes the responsibilities of the shaman.

Lovecraft, reflecting a modern sensibility, warned that mankind was not meant to venture far into the reality of our vast cosmos. In what is probably his most well known quote he predicts that if we were to awake to our true position in the vast scheme of things we would run quickly back into the comforts of a new dark age. For Lovecraft that would be a return to barbarism and religious superstition in which we try once again to appease primitive gods, granting at least some small degree of control over what happens to us in our own deluded minds. It is not a pretty picture of our psychological potential. For Lovecraft, the modern western author of cosmic horror par excellence, madness threatens those who seek too deeply into the nature of nature.

Against this view what defense does modern man have? I will argue interdependence, the view embraced by ecology and systems science. Size alone, in space or in time, should not intimidate us. The human brain is the most complex organization of connections in all the known universe. The evolutionary role of emergent consciousness, which is what mankind is involved in, is closer to quantum weirdness than it is to the now discredited mechanical universe Lovecraft was reacting to.

When another person dismisses your existence as meaningless and worthless, as elitists of every stripe do with such ease, it is as if they are embodying this view of a vast heartless universe, our modern horror. In what psychology knows as a reaction formation people who have become assholes have reacted to this repressed threat to their ego by overcompensating for the impotency it makes them feel. This is much like the closely related phenomenon in which the bully uses cruelty and violence to maintain a repression over their inner insecurities. ‘If the universe is just going to use and abuse us, well I’m nobody’s fool, I’ll use and abuse people even more,’ the twisted thinking of the asshole-elitist runs. Next thing you know we are dealing with the unique cruelty only human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another: we will never see rabbits crucifying one another or wolves hooking pain inflicting electrodes to each other, or even, Orwell’s prescient Animal Farm not withstanding, will we see pigs creating totalitarian governance systems.

Compassion is anti-assholism, anti-elitism. For some reason there are other people that react to this same environment differently. This view of vast time and space opens these people to extend loving kindness to others as much as they can. They do not perceive the universe, just as it is, as a threat to their ego stability, but as the supporting context from which it arises and draws its being. At some deep level, beyond what ego can directly control, they have become convinced that whatever is most precious to them cannot be destroyed however outrageous one’s folly might be.

We do not know the determining factors that decide which way an ego will come to view its place in the grand scheme of things. Something beyond what ego can control is guiding this process as far as we can tell. This is why depth psychology needed the concept of the Self as a larger whole within the psyche of an individual than the ego alone. What we do know is that these things seem to be related to how a person has been handling the highs and lows they experience in their innermost heart, their center of emotional life. Here is where the mystery of consciousness is most acute, here in the inner sanctum of the real temple.

The compassionate protectors will discipline themselves and others as a tree is pruned, to facilitate future growth. The will never harm the health of the seed and sap, as it were. The destroyers, on the other hand, use discipline as a means of dispensing with existence, denying that life has any right to exist just as it is. It is as if the destroyers miss the seed and the sap, the Buddha Nature, the state of grace, that everywhere is manifest in sacred world.

We find both protectors and destroyers within and without. It is good to know how to identify who is who. Those who would treat you cruelly, and exalt in that cruelty for cruelty’s sake, do not confuse the minds of their victims. They are easy to identify. The torturer and the bully in their pure form are self defeating. It is when the torturer claims to be working for the Holy Inquisition, and the bully claims to be working for the patriotic military (aka Holy Hosts) that the confusions abound.

Those who would treat you cruelly and claim it is compassion, that it is For Your Own Good, are liars. They are claiming, thereby, to have found themselves heartless in a heartless universe. They are claiming the earth is dead, a place where feeling and consciousness are epiphenomenon, where all that is really going on is a meaningless clash of robots. They have made all things over into the image of the machine. Or, if they are of a religious instead of secular bent, they claim to have found the only heart in a heartless universe. Their savior and story are the one thing that really matters; earth is the dead backdrop against which the all important drama of the human soul takes place. If we need to kill the village to save it, this thinking runs, so be it.

This is a simple truth: there is a universe of difference between treating oneself and others with cruelty and treating oneself and others with compassion.

It Has Begun

“I don’t know about you but I feel like Jung was certainly right. I mean, I have mentioned before that what we do affects the next seven generations. In other words, I am carrying the history and experiences of the past seven generations. Some will say that it is not fair, that it means I am carrying baggage. But you have to remember that it goes both ways. I am also carrying the beauty, strength and knowledge of the past seven generations. Sometimes it is also about remembering or investigating where we come from, so we know better who we are today.

The history of the Native Americans is sadly filled with trauma and what I would qualify as genocides. Massacres such as Wounded Knee, need to be remembered as they affect the soul of all. Such massacres also affect the land they took place upon. The memory of what happened lives within the Earth. The bodies, the blood lives within the soil. If you think about how Native American culture emphasizes the connection to the Earth, a wound to the Earth is a wound to the people. It is a wound to the earth-connected side we all have, thus a wound to the soul. The feelings and the hurt of those who passed away on the battlefields do not die with them. They remain in each of us. The Land holds our stories, the land will evoke our personal and collective stories, it will remind us of them. As the land is also living. Violence to the people or the land led to the suffering of the following generations, as it is stored in our collective unconscious or psyche.”
Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious and Native Americans

“No law shall be passed that harms the children.”
Native American Tribal Counsel

 

It is all together too easy to lose our personal power. One person gazing with horror at the non-stop carbon dioxide production of our global footprint – what are we to do? Words by the billions have already been written, detailing what we know about humanity’s ecological relationships with the biosphere. Studies have been funded and conferences have been held, speeches have been given and protests have been organized. Prayers and songs have been offered, tears and blood have been shed.

Still the amount of carbon dioxide pollution increases at a frightening rate year after year. Still each year is a record breaking one, warmer than the last. We are all living in a slow motion train wreck. Those with window seats are traumatized, and in my mind, they are the lucky ones. Those who are called to become mindful of ecological relationships between the human footprint and the biosphere are given sacred knowledge. We cannot use it, we can allow it to use us.

If we ask how we can make a difference that will really make a difference, it is difficult to imagine anything we could do that has not already been done. There is not, in fact, much a single individual can do to change the trajectories we are on. It does no good to pretend otherwise. This is the shock of the horrified, the shock that comes to those who are given a glimpse of the Juggernaut we have built. Have you seen it? Have you watched Homo Colossus tear up the earth? It’s metallic maw chews up rain forests and ocean reefs then spits out cancerous waters darkened with sickness and starvation. If we are honest with ourselves, it is as if some part of ourselves simply flat-lines staring at the wall of ignorant indifference. We are numbed by the planetary powers in play of truly titanic proportions.

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Yesterday I saw a graffiti of ‘Trump’ across an ecology sign along a park walkway. Gave me the feeling of darkening Nazi skies. There is a perception that ecologists are freaks; forever going on about chipmunks and creeks, moss killer and robins. Freaks that should just be run over if they insist on standing in the way of making America Great Again.

It doesn’t do any good to pretend we are not who and what we are. We are tempted to pretend we do not have a point of view running as deep as these boulders. As if by denying these passionate, simple commitments made in our hearts we could assure the world that we too are just like everyone else. Something to bear in mind when thinking about these things. Your own simplicity is the path.

It was an interesting victory a few days ago for the long patient Standing Rock protest. Their prayer and ceremony was powerfully effective on a number of levels. The ripples from these events are bound to play out along lines both joyful and sorrowful, beautiful and ugly for a long time to come. People mindful of ecology will most certainly want to keep an eye on this pipeline project as it has become a rumbling of earth spirituality through the federal government of the United States. If my intuition is right there is considerably more riding on the wings of those prayer feathers than first meets the eye. Water protectors are of the elemental realm. They have witnessed to a level of purity and fundamental truth about our times. The troubled American psyche marks the moment: water turned against water protectors, veterans involved, treaty rights of this land’s indigenous peoples questioned again, the Army Corp of Engineers involved, energy corporations involved, ecological legal regulations involved, and all attended by a popular uprising of people insisting that the wholesale destruction of the earth must stop. Now.

Mark this moment. Grandfathers, please pray for us.

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Sustainability (def.): of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

The changes to the ocean acidification recorded in the last hundred years will take ten-thousand years to work their way through the system. Are there words for this? Has a generation ever before claimed so much for themselves alone?

This is a simple boulder of truth: that which cannot be sustained, will not be sustained.

I have no more words.

Let’s just sit and watch the reason we brought this disaster upon our children, the wonderful bounty of our happy modern lives. Koyaanisqatsi.

Black Friday

“The essence of hermeneutics, an art widely practiced in former times, consists in adding further analogies to the one already supplied by the symbol: in the first place subjective analogies produced at random by the patient, then objective analogies provided by the analyst out of his general knowledge. This procedure widens and enriches the initial symbol.”
Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 7

“Every interpretation necessarily remains an ‘as-if.’ The ultimate core of meaning may be circumscribed, but not described.”
Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 9

 

Our ecological position is actually very simple to understand; we just do not want to see it, do not want to hear about it, we pretend not to grasp it, and we insist we do not feel its despair. We have raised the denial of Limits to Growth, climate change and the sixth extinction to an art form. All the most powerful people are doing it.

magicalcongressIsn’t it interesting that this image pops into the collective mind right at the time the US congress is about to be populated by magical thinkers quick to deny climate change science?

The view I have shared in these posts over the last few years has included a type of archetypal analysis of the social mind.  Just as a depth psychologist will look to a patient’s dreams to pick up clues to what the individual knows outside of their narrow ego awareness, so we can look to the ways in which our societies seek one thing consciously, yet leave clues as they do so about the larger questions of history and meaning those societies are dealing with. It is a working premise of mine that all cultures are deeply engaged in what scholars call the history of ideas. With one eye on mythological themes and another eye on the unfolding of history under the aegis of the Limits to Growth constraints, those who contemplate ecology are well equipped for such activities.

This week the recent holiday comes in for some hermeneutic treatment. This type of analysis never reaches firm and final conclusions. It is in the spirit of playful creativity, finding insights by circling around and around an idea or symbol. It is an engagement with what things might mean for us.

This hermeneutic treatment is offered as a framework for introducing the next cognitively simple idea on which we can build an effective response to the ecological crisis. I am calling these boulders of simplicity. This is another bolder on which a mindfulness of ecological reality allows the contemplative to sit in some assurance that they actually know a little bit of what is really going on in the world. The more we learn to think like a mountain, the less tempted we are to fall for cognitive will-o-wisps pushed by the talking heads. It does not behoove us to hitch our star to some horseshit that is here today, gone tomorrow. We are looking for boulders easily able to weather the years.

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time in which extended family gathered together to share a meal they cooked themselves. It is done in commemoration of the very important story to citizens of the United States in which the Native Americans’ generosity saved the first pilgrims from dying during the harsh winter in their new land.

There are so many things wrong with this, at least from the point of view of those whose job it is to keep the collective mind of the consumer society primed for consuming. It could be it is the most dangerous holiday: the one in which the contrast of values is greatest between classic Christianity influenced culture and the post World War public relations influenced culture. Let’s take it point by point. Extended family was targeted early in the mass marketing campaigns. You can sell more things to isolated nuclear families than to those who already have much of what they need by retaining multiple generations of goods. Cooking a meal together and then sharing the feast are not pastimes that should be encouraged because they can provide moments of happiness wholly unrelated to market place transactions. White pilgrims needing the help of Native Americans runs counter to our images of ourselves as the self-sufficient, self-made country. The Native Americans were repackaged as primitive savages to justify our land grab and besides, don’t they have way too much concern about ecology and walking lightly on the land to be modern anyway? They insist on such ridiculous things as water being more valuable than oil.

These are just the outer wrappings around the Thanksgiving holiday that threaten the consumer value system. These might have been manageable, in fact are. The one unforgivable feature of this particular holiday is the thanks-giving in Thanksgiving. Giving thanks for what one already has is the death knell to endless growth economics. To give thanks is to be in a place of psychological contentment. This is not acceptable to those who need to sell things.

And so Thanksgiving Thursday gained a parasite: Black Friday.

A tradition has grown in the land of consumerism. It started rather small and mostly unobtrusive, though it was a parasite from the beginning. First it was seen as an adjunct to the Thanksgiving holiday, a few bonus coupons and sales. Then the hours the stores would open on this special Friday were moved earlier and earlier. Lines forming at five in the morning became news worthy. The years went by and now many of the “best” bargains are made available at the stroke of midnight – the final capitulation to the instant gratification value system of consumerism.

This is how I would characterize the social phenomenon we have christened Black Friday: it is consumerism’s holy day. It is a special time set aside for obeisance to the first world gods of money and markets. The holy day breaks out of ordinary time in all the ways holy days usually do: there are special rites that change the time people do things (setting my alarm for 4 am to go shopping!); special markings granting boons from the gods (20% Off Today Only!); Dionysian danger to test the faithful (Shopper Crushed by Ecstatic Mob); participation in the nation’s most sacred sport, pushing shopping carts, and as a member of the largest national sport team each participant is granted the opportunity to give their all to beat the competition (Black Friday Sales up 17% this Year); if the magical rites are successfully carried out the gods will bestow their blessing on the coming new year (Retailers Report Consumer Confidence Restored!).

Do you begin to see how this hermeneutic analysis can aid us in orienting ourselves in our own time and within our own culture by locating things like this new secular holiday within the context of larger human experience?

Black Friday gets its name from the accounting profession. It marks the official opening of the holiday shopping season, which is when many retailers make the lion share of their profits and their accounting books move from being in the red to being in the black. That is the explanation of the name we use consciously, publicly. Those who designed the name for this special day, of course, did so with an equally powerful message for our unconscious minds following the standard dictates of the advertising profession.

Good Friday – Black Friday is the obvious linkage. I think very few of us have never made the connection, at least semi-consciously, but without some training in hermeneutics did not know what to make of it and quickly filed it in the interesting coincidences drawer and forgot about it.

Christ Friday. This god died to put an end to human sacrifice. This god endures pain and suffering for the greater good of the whole human family. This god dies to save the human race from sin.

Its inversion is simple enough.

Shopping Friday. This god demands human sacrifice. This god offers instant gratification, or at least distraction and narcosis, to soothe the isolated individual. This god lives to ensnare the human race in compulsions and obsessions.

Semi-consciously, the cleverness is recognized. Good Friday is Christianity’s highest holy day, Black Friday is the Anti-Christ’s highest holy day: aka not giving to the least of these but glorying in the world trade of Babylon. People are dying in desperate poverty, poverty all too often exacerbated by first world foreign policy and crony capitalism controlled foreign aid. People are dying from wars, wars all too often exacerbated by first world rapacity in its need for oil and other industrialization resources. The Black Friday holiday represses all these truths, and others like them, behind a slick set of ad campaigns. It turns our attention from the needs of the world, to the needs the advertisers have created.

It is as if we needed to show all the world that we have raised another god above us, one that will take from the poor and give to the rich. This god is beholden to petroleum, cloaking itself in the black mantel of that toxic Dragon’s Blood. If the Good Friday Christ was the light of life rising in the golden dawn of a new day, this Black Friday Christ is the dark of death sinking in the leaden twilight of a violent night. One said “man does not live by bread alone,” the other insists he does. Like the contest between the ecologists and the economists, only one of them can be right… and time will tell.

Finding the meaning of human society in the act of shopping shrunk our souls, leaving us little more than robotic husks going through the motions, waiting for the axe to fall. A good dollop of mindfulness can see right through this whole set of fun house mirrors. A good dollop of compassion can playfully watch the whole cognitive house of cards built by the ad men come tumbling down.

This then is our next boulder of simplicity: There really is no way to justify the destruction of the biosphere for short term profits. It really is that simple.