Earth Love: Mind

“But epistemology is always and inevitably personal. The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer: What is my answer to the question of the nature of knowing? I surrender to the belief that my knowing is a small part of a wider integrated knowing that knits the entire biosphere or creation.”
Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity, Gregory Bateson

 

What is it exactly that forms the river into the specific form it takes as it winds its way down a mountainside? The water interacts with the land it touches and together they work out the path it takes. Riverbanks constrain the water and the water carves the riverbanks. Throughout, conditions form the expression of the river; a boulder in the middle of the river here, a fallen log there, the incline of the ground is steep here and less steep over there. The tides and flows are molded by all these factors. The shape of the river also is influenced by the organic matter it interacts with; algae slowing the flow in the stagnant water of a cul-de-sac or a trout vigorously kicking splashes of water and pebbles to and fro.

Not one element of the river is expressing itself just-because. There are causes involved at a multitude of scales all working together to bring forth the exact expression of the pattern of relationships which we call a river. Ever changing yet ever constrained, the river embodies and expresses these patterns of relationships moment by moment.

Ask a physicist what makes the river take the exact form it does and they will be able to explain it in terms of gravity and hydrodynamics. They can provide a detailed description in complex equations. Here is another area in which I think it is extremely helpful for contemplatives to have some grounding in modern science. The equations involved in the description of fluid behavior are difficult. These complex discoveries are among the more impressive achievements of the modern mind, yet without some exposure to the level of detail the sciences speak there is no real way to appreciate that. This blog is not the place to examine such equations and I am certainly not the best guide to such explorations but it is worth a moment to just see one set for a simplified 2D flow:

Navier-Stokes-Stream2DStill, in spite of our deep understanding of the dynamics of fluids the human mind remains unable to predict the shape of a river in any but the most trivial of environments. This inability to predict is due to more than just the number of variables involved, although those are immense. Imagine a computer able to handle them all and still we would be unable to form accurate predictions due to the chaotic nature of water flows.

Just how the turbulence within the river will develop is highly sensitive to the initial conditions. We call this state of affairs a chaotic system. The force of cause and effect is no less prevalent in such systems; it is simply that the slightest change in the starting values of the parameters leads to very different outcomes. In the real world our instruments are only able to measure to certain degrees of accuracy so those differences in initial conditions act as a barrier to our ability to predict exactly what will happen as the rivers weave their warp and woof on their way to the oceans. (Measurement and its characteristics in the real world were mentioned earlier.) There will be more to say about complex systems that incorporate chaotic dynamics as we proceed along this blog project. For now I think it well illustrates that the type of ‘intelligence’ a river is involved in is not as simple and trivial as we might think it is before we analyze it.

The river itself of course has no trouble navigating all these factors. Embodying this ‘intelligence’ is what it does moment by moment. It reminds of a quip by Buckminster Fuller, “I wonder”, to paraphrase what he said, “how many decimal places of Pi nature carries out her calculations before deciding it is good enough to make a water bubble?”

We have grown so used to thinking of mind as something only human beings have. A more narrow definition of mind would be hard to imagine. Such a narrow definition is useful in some contexts but as a general world-view it may not serve us well. Too narrow a view admits only a mysterious ghost in the machine in the human brain finding itself in a dead universe of automatons and carnival masks, or to use the classical terms – atoms and void. Ok, let us say for the sake of argument that view is true on the atomic level. Does that necessarily entail that there is nothing real at any other level? To insist it does would be a logical error.

This might seem pedantic but there are enormous debates in our history trying to decide if the consciousness animals have might have any characteristics we could rightly call mind and if so to what degree. The way we treat and eat animals might need to change if we were to change our view on this matter. Still, most people are willing to assign some degree of mind to their pets and extend it as a logical implication to other animals of the wild. The Elk and Wolf both display behaviors that we recognize as purposeful and intuitively we assign such functionality to mind. It gets a bit harder to say the same about a worm or a gnat perhaps.

Here is where a mindful ecology lets its love for the earth whisper wisdoms from indigenous peoples. As astonishing as it might be, and as I have mentioned before, even a single celled amoeba can be said to have beliefs of sorts since it too displays purposeful behavior. Daringly, might we suggest that those flowing rivers we just looked at are best understood as also being expressions of mind? Or to be a bit more careful, mindful ecology is suggesting that there are definitions of mind that are coherent while being able to incorporate not only the biological but also the whole container in which the biosphere is found. To be clear: this is the heresy some proponents of the Gaia hypothesis are at pains to disown. They are comfortable admitting life might form non-life towards serving its needs but cannot see how the obverse relationship could have an equally valid standing. We are so conditioned to see the non-life as dumb and dead and nothing more it is difficult to imagine any other view could even be coherent unless there was theism behind it.

Why might it matter how narrow or wide we define the nature of mind? I asked a few posts ago to take some time with a flower or a candle and really ask yourself; just what is it you think is really going on here? Here is one way to view such things.  This view I am proposing is firmly rooted in an ecological understanding of how critical to the well-being of living things is the interactions they have, always and everywhere, with the non-organic. There is a whole here that cannot be separated. Even a cell in a laboratory’s sterilized Petri dish remains dependent on its environmental container.

That there is design in nature is the puzzle of puzzles. Theists claim it proves their view, Darwin is said to have explained it without recourse to a mind-of-god hypothesis and the artists, poets and lovers never fail to be inspired by it. The contemplatives suggest it is actually very difficult, perhaps impossible, to draw a distinct boundary between the expression of mind seemingly inside and the expression of mind seemingly outside. They seem to have intuitively grasped a definition of mind surprisingly modern in its ramifications.

Describing the shape and dynamics of a river as a manifestation of intelligence comes from an appreciation of a few fundamentals normally attributed to consciousness. There is information. Information requires a physical representation; it needs a material base as we have learned from cybernetics and computer science. In our computers the information is in the form of electrical voltages high and low, in the formation of a river it is in the form of the riverbanks and other elements. There is communication. Communication establishes relationships which are required to express any pattern whatsoever. In our computers the relationships are between logic gates, particular patterns of electrical circuits. In the shaping of the river the relationships are between hydraulic flow characteristics, gravity, organic material and a whole host of other features.

Recognizing the primacy of relationships is another way of saying reality is interdependent, or dependently arising. Recognizing the primacy of relationships is also why when Gregory Bateson tried to teach about an ecology of mind that would include the mind of the Redwood forest and the sea amoebas. He wrote: “The pattern which connects is a metapattern.  It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect.” (Mind and Nature, italics in original). Patterns are relationships in which meaning is found, intelligence.

When you can sense the trees you see shimmering their leaves in the wind are joining the shrubs and lawn under the cloud bedecked blue sky in expressing a mind that is not fundamentally different than your own – then a peace can blossom in your mind-stream that embraces you thoroughly, warmly, like a mother. Look straight up into the deep blue sky. Without over-romanticizing it sense the ancient jellyfish who were perhaps the first to seek light, and the vines crawling upward reaching for the sun, then add the countless flowers spread over the whole of the earth and over eons, shifting to get just a few more of those precious rays. Sense your ancestors, many of whom were not at all polite or quiet or even human. The treasure house of awareness in its container is precious, priceless, the jewel worth more than any possible purchase.

Everything that would make you into a stranger on this earth, resist it. Others are all too willing to deny your reality to sell you something, force you to do their bidding, enlist you in their cause, trap you in their own nightmares… gently set aside the peer pressures. Remove the hands of fear from your throat. Fight off the constrictions on your chest and breathe freely. Recognize that with the jewel of awareness you have everything of ultimate worth. Just perhaps, that insight will cut the power behind our clinging to lesser things. Try it. As my teacher says, give it a shot.

The Music of the Spheres

Ecological thinking embodies explorations of relationships between living things and those living things and their environments. The living things can be as large as a blue whale or as small as a bacterium. The environments can be as small as a drop of pond water or as extensive as the whole universe itself. With the proper use of the right tools these relationships can be explored in great detail. Part of a contemplative’s satisfaction and wellbeing comes from spending the time that is needed to really enjoy these details.

Spending time with mammals leaves little doubt that there is awareness behind their eyes. It is a commonplace that our cats and dogs have personalities we come to love. Many people take this obvious acknowledgment of awareness as just a first step and extend the same recognition that there is some sort of awareness to the birds, insects, invertebrates and all the rest of the species populating the biosphere with such endless forms most beautiful.

This living world is in contrast to the deadened one too many of us habitually inhabit. The modern industrialized environment is so dominated by human artifacts that it is all too easy to forget to take even a single moment for mindfulness; for remembering how special it really is to be alive for the few years we are each allotted. This is why it is so helpful to have tools to support our efforts at remaining awake. The tools remind us that we are not isolated freaks of nature persecuted with self-conscious awareness of our mortality but are actually bearers of human dignity within a large community of life.

The dead world is the other way of viewing existence: that the pessimistic, nihilistic, thoroughly reductive materialism where only the dog-eat-dog of selfish, cruel, competitive power seekers all tragically and robotically unfree is “really” real. Many think that this is the necessary view that science teaches us, many more fear that this might be the case and refuse to look long and deep into the ways of the deadened world. They fear a silent universe. In the classical contemplative teachings all these insights are welcomed as the courageously clear analysis of samsara, the way the grey world really is. There is suffering involved in birth, sickness, old age and death, a suffering that is both individual and planetary. For you as an individual, things can look rather bleak. Our running away from this truth only makes us more haunted and hunted, more susceptible to the snake oil salesmen offering relief through a new purchase. The ancient advice is to stop running away, to look directly on the ways of being. Then you might have the power, the inspiration, to find the cracks where the light and magic can get in. The rumor is that there is a world of rainbows hiding just below the surface of the grey.

To help in this work, and it is work, there are tools of escape. The grey world is no more “really” real in any absolute sense than any of the other many conceptual castles we are capable of constructing for ourselves. The tools are everywhere once we are clear that the task is lessening our self-absorption. The first one I recommend for your consideration is kept on the person: a simple hand lens that fits easily into a pocket or purse. This is a simple tool that unlocks a whole new world within the world. Examine the ice on the pond, the weave of your clothes’ fabric, the luminous sheen on a dragonfly wing, the multiple eyes of your friendly neighborhood spider and any of countless other items populating your immediate environment. An appreciation for the intricate intelligence within forms naturally arises as we become more acquainted with their details. Unfortunately the human nervous system can quickly become numb to any stimuli it encounters repeatedly but with a hand lens always close you train in looking again, in really seeing the individual form in front of you and not just the conceptual label that normally accompanies perception.

PocketMagnifierKorzybski taught us in the 1930s that the menu is not the meal. His master work, Science and Sanity, is well worth spending time with if you have a scientific bend to your intellectual curiosities. In this work he points out how quickly our nervous systems can label this living, green stuff under our feet grass and by this very move miss all conscious perception of the individual, unique blades. He goes on to point out that those individual, unique blades have a reality to their existence that the abstraction “grass” does not. The simple expediency of using a hand lens every day in all kinds of places to examine all kinds of things helps wake us up to our senses again and slip out of the too settled grey zone of abstract conceptual thought. This simple hand lens acts to focus our curiosity outward, out into the world beyond our immediate personal concerns.

So as you are out walking under the sky with your hand lens in pocket, what other practice might we participate in? One I find fruitful is taking on the chore of picking up the human garbage I see along some part of my walk. Find some part of the environment you frequent regularly in which it is possible to see the natural world, however slight such a glimpse might be. Take a moment to pick up any human made pollution scarring this experience of the natural world, or at least a bit of it. The hope is that others might enjoy a view of Gaia and find relief from their grinding, daily concerns in a moment of appreciation of the world’s beauty. I live in an urban area so choose a park walkway for this practice. I have found the world readily cooperates, providing new trash to work with most every day. Sure it is a small thing and certainly will not save the world but that is just the point; it is a practice that embraces the reality of what I can do which is not much, but it is something.

The next set of tools is for the home. I was taught that every well-appointed home should have a few basic mind tools; a microscope, a telescope and a set of encyclopedias. Perhaps the last is now passé with the arrival of the internet but the others are all the more needed in our time of experts. In the same way that the hand lens widens the world one lives in, the wonderful (and for the most part affordable) basic microscope and telescope delivers whole new worlds. The thing is, it is just not the same to see a photo of a cell or the rings of Saturn as it is to gaze on these things with your own eyes. Of the many foolishness’s of our times perhaps none is more destructive of a zest for living then the pervasive sovereignty of experts. Somehow most of us have been left with the impression that if we are not able to contribute some new insight into a science or invent a new math or algorithm, then there is nothing for us in exploring the marvels of the world on our own. Here is the secret – encountering reality is beneficial to our mindstream, our souls if you will. It is not an exclusive club for the wealthy and powerful, the smart and genius but a very democratic feature of the human experience. It is yours for the taking.

For example, I have had quite awe inspiring experiences playing with the spectrum of light revealed by a prism. Sure I had read in my physics books that sunlight consists of all the colors of the rainbow, even saw the photo.  But when I got my hands on a water prism and reproduced some of the experiments of Newton, Boyle and Goethe… something deep inside me changed. The world became a more magical place. All these tools can work the same way. All it takes is an alert awareness, a relaxed curiosity. The microscope, telescope, hand lens and prism can unite with rational studies to educate the imagination, the inner senses. How this in turn works out in practice will occupy us for the rest of this post.

Consider how contemplation of geese flying overhead can lead to a rich sense of being at home on the earth. In the presence of this event, these migrations, your consciousness is participating in an ecological and evolutionary adaptation that has been going on for centuries, millennia, and if you allow for all that has ever flocked across the face of Gaia, for hundreds of millions of years. It is just a single detail within the biosphere yet a necessary one. As they glide by in the sky and within your awareness, are you able to sense the timelessness of the event? How innumerable individual animals have come and gone yet the pattern remains? What is important is that the role be carried out, that this particular niche in the manifold exuberance of life’s anti-entropic explorations is wholly filled. If there were no geese another species would have evolved to take advantage of the same resources.

In the same way there seems to be a role for self-conscious beings given our particular human apperception of existence. Poetically, our thisness meets the other’s thusness as we ask, what makes the grass green? Who or what makes that which is real, seem real to me? Final, complete introspective investigation uncovers the most intimate ‘this’ is simply ‘thus’, beyond perceiver and perceived as two. All the contemplative tools are designed to provide an entryway into this insight, whether they are tools to hold in the hands or tools to hold in the mind.

Perhaps one way into a taste of this non-duality and the way our sense of reality mixes with it in high contemplations is through thinking about what is known in the west as the Music of the Spheres. This is said to be the harmonies the planets are making as they follow their celestial movements and is a fine example of a tool held in the mind. The music of the spheres is like a Zen koan. Sound is the label we give to the human sensory neuron-firings stimulated by vibrations in the earth’s atmosphere which cause the delicate bones of our inner ear to move. Where is any objective sense of sound in all of this? Really apprehended, one experiences an unmovable silence in the heart of all sounds, an emptiness of the element of the absolutely real in sound that seems to exist in sound until we take full awareness of its processing. In this state of mind, now consider the Music of the Spheres as a profound not-sound since there is no atmosphere in space to carry the vibrations we label sound. Yet one could say the planets sing as their orchestrated movements unfold across the spacetime of relativity and vibrate using the most fundamental macrocosmic force of all – gravity.

Just as there is a kind of silence in sound when apprehended with due weight given to the role of our nervous systems, there is a kind of sound in what we perceive as silence. Perhaps we are so constructed as to be deaf to the rest of the orchestra of existence outside of our atmosphere; we are after all wholly children of our Mother Earth. Perhaps all things in all scales, from the collision of galaxies through the spinning and orbiting of planets, on down to the molecular world’s non-stop shaking and the quarks ceaseless vibrations (to say nothing of strings) are all producing “sound.” The Music of the Spheres indeed!

What good is training with such thought experiments? It is not to assert dogmatically that there is such a sound and what we experience as sound is just a delusion. Nor is it meant to assert the opposite. In becoming open to the possibility that there is a Music of the Spheres that we can hear though the faculty of intuition and insight one also entertains an awareness of the larger, cosmological context in which an awareness of “sound” is taking place. The context of galaxies through to quarks is that on which our sense of what is “really” real selects a slice due to the construction of our nervous systems.

The reason tradition says to train this way is that from this view it is possible to recognize the inescapable dream-like quality of all conscious experience which in turn alleviates suffering by transforming it from something “really real” in an absolute sense and hence life as hell, into something “real, but not quite how it seems” which can open one to experience life as sacred world here and now. These are advanced teachings, hard for the conceptual mind alone to grasp since they are about awareness itself, that more fundamental feature of mind all sentient beings share and on which our conceptual thoughts themselves depend.

The Music of the Spheres is the koan for hearing. Similar contemplations can arise for the other senses as well. Both techniques – sharing the deep time role of geese overhead and looking deeply into what hearing is – are ways of shifting the center of gravity of one’s awareness outside the ego. They are part of what I understand the Buddhist teachings on no-self to be about. Ego is this apperception we have that we are really real the way we seem to be to ourselves; unchanging, singular and independent or separate from everything else. There is self and other, the perceiver and the perceived and far as ego is concerned never the twain shall meet. The yogic view differs, insisting that we are not separate and so are ever-changing and multiple. It holds that however painful it might be for ego to see through its delusions it is worth the effort. Yoga means to yoke, union. It unites self and other by recognizing no-self; that what we actually are is mystery yet we can be assured it is a wholly natural fruition of all that is, a bud on the flowering process of life, a wholly owned expression of causes and conditions written in deep time and across deep space.

Softening the boundary between self and other, one’s allegiance can become increasingly aligned with the side of all living things instead of narrowly focused on your life or your species alone. You will find yourself rejoicing in another’s good fortune and saddened by another’s misfortunes. Equally, taking good care of yourself respects the sliver of the divine other in the budding of life you happen to know most intimately. I suggested in a previous post that when we hear mindful we think heartful. In the same way I suggest that when we hear other we think other-self or larger-self or rest-of-self. In ecology we learn we cannot really discard garbage, that it cannot really be thrown away because there is no away away. This is similar – there is no other that is wholly other. Again, ecological concepts weave well with concepts from the contemplative traditions.  Next week we will look at the contemplative traditions most recognized tool, meditation.

Fools and Fisher Kings

“May all sentient being enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering.
May they dwell in great equanimity free from clinging, aggression and prejudice.”
Traditional Tibetan Buddhist Prayer

My interest in sharing ecological insight through this blog project is not to simply provide additional intellectual bling for you to dazzle your friends with at your next party. We moderns have forgotten the older role of knowledge as doors and passages into deeper places of awareness and experience in our rush to monetize and mechanize everything. No, what we are exploring here are some of the ways in which our daily lives might so deeply incorporate an acknowledgement of reality as to be transformed by it, transformed into wiser and more compassionate human beings.

For knowledge to effect a transformation like this requires that it be absorbed at levels deeper than the endlessly chatty internal discursive dialog that we experience in our conscious awareness. Look back on your own experiences, which ones have had an actual life changing effect, however small? Can you recognize how these work their way into your psychic makeup far deeper than the stream of chatty internal talk ever does? Traditionally this deeper absorption of learning has been referred to as learning it bodily; we say we know it in our bones or our hearts or that we have a gut instinct.

Yogas in the East and alchemy as explained by Carl Jung in the West are schools of thought that try to capture this universal experience of allowing teachings and learning to enter us so deeply that they change the way we view the world and our lives within it. They recognize something the cultures of today tend to dismiss, namely that the dichotomy between body and mind is not as solid and real as it sometimes seems, that profound knowing is as much an act of the body as of the mind. All of this is part of what mindfulness means as I am using the word.

I thought long and hard about including the term mindful in the title of this blog. So much foo-foo has accumulated around the term by now that an argument could be made that it no longer conveys anything meaningful. But I think we have already conceded too much intellectual ground to the perversions of evaluating all things human through the lens of the market. I hope to battle for the right of this word to regain the cutting brilliance it has earned through centuries of use. Foolish, I know, yet perhaps a fool more like Perceval in the Grail Castle and less like Don Quixote tilting his lance at windmills.

Mindfulness in these contexts is of course a translation of a concept from the ancient languages Sanskrit and Pali. We can expect there to be a bit of a struggle to fully comprehend what it means both because of the challenges involved in transplanting core concepts from one culture to another, particularly over centuries, and in this case because some of what is alluded to by mindfulness is intrinsically difficult for the human mind to fully comprehend. A good place to start is to clear the decks a bit by mentioning what it is not.

Mindfulness is not the latest trick for executives to master the art of pursuing profit with one pointed concentration, despite the many workshops and conferences promising just that. Mindfulness is not a shortcut to psychological well-being and popularity, nor is it meant to be an excuse for spacing out during your efforts at learning and the concentration involved in study. Mindfulness is not an esoteric, occult power that will lead to Svengali-like power over other people’s minds as we saw when Obi Ben Kenobi convinced the guards that “these are not the droids you’re looking for” with a wave of his hand.

So what is mindfulness then? Well if at this point I offered a pithy sentence or two that would only defeat the whole purpose. The whole point of using the handle mindfulness is to indicate something other than the typical conceptual discursive thinking experience which is our mind’s default. You know, that endless ruminating about our to-do list, how we should have done this or that differently in the past, how the future will likely be better or worse than right now and how without the slightest bit of effort thoughts seem to be able to plan, plan, plan…

A Zen master would likely leave it at that at this point, more than enough said already. I am not such a wise being and in fact share the very modern propensity to want to talk about everything, including that which cannot really be talked about. Assuming this is sufficient warning not to take anything I have to share too seriously, since I am really just another bozo on this bus, from here on in I am going to talk freely about what has helped me. The whole world has become a culture of Western modernism to some degree, my hope is that as a member of this mono-culture some of what has struck me might resonate with others.

In the culture of Tibet people locate the mind in the region of the heart. A number of indigenous peoples including some of the Native American tribes see things the same way. This sounds strange to us since we are so used to allocating thought to the grey matter in our skulls and dismissing the role of the rest of the nervous system. Neuroscience however confirms that the endocrine, hormone and neurotransmitter molecules throughout our bodies all have roles to play in creating this awareness we experience. The classic yogic inner map of the body with the chakras as nexus points along the spine is not so far from the modern scientific view after all.

In the culture of Tibet people locate the body as centered in the head. Now we are really confronting something that just seems to be nonsense to us. Consider this though; four of the five sense gates of the body are all located where? Adorning the skull of course. Observing this they simply gave it the weight it seemed to deserve in an introspective analysis. In the Western mainstream traditions introspective analysis is burdened with a bad boy reputation. Psychology tried to make this the central tool of its scientific research under Wilhelm Wundt in the 1880’s but that did not work out so well, so the whole idea that objective truths could be found from introspective observation of inner states of consciousness was tossed overboard. This Western blind spot does not change the fact that the same human body structure is shared the world over and there is no reason to assume a priori it would not reveal itself to have common characteristics for all those who approached an investigation of it with a certain care. The yogas teach this is exactly the case, something not to be accepted as dogma but investigated for oneself.

Anyway, now I think my pithy sentence about what mindfulness actually is might be understood. I know I said such a thing would defeat the purpose but I also said I’m a fool. So rushing in where angels fear to tread; I suggest it might be helpful to hear the term mindfulness and translate it internally as heartfulness.

Last week wrapped up a dismal estimation of the most probable outcome of humanity’s overshooting the boundaries and limits of the natural world. Understanding the ecocide slowly unfolding around us day in and day out breaks your heart. Those with the courage to allow themselves to feel this in the body are like the knights of old, chivalrous and questing yet covered in armor in a desperate attempt to protect themselves. Look out from your visor, through the bars of the man-made environment and catch a glimpse of the landscape through which you roam. The land has grown desolate and grey. The soil no longer productive without a dose of toxic chemicals forcing it to grow crops, the trees wilting under the sun that is burning too hot thanks to the smokes belching out of our tailpipes, the streams and oceans clogged with plastics and heavy metals lending a satanic sheen to the waste land.

In our hearts we know this is not the way it needs to be, we know that somewhere there is a fortress of sacredness still at the center of the world but how can we find it? Questing without pause, accompanied by thoughts of collapse and extinction when we wake and as we fall asleep, eventually something snaps and we find ourselves in the center of the world, in the castle where we encounter an old king long in pain, suffering a mortal wound but unable to die; the industrial world grown old and now hollow and meaningless, yet unable to let go. Before our vision a procession of wonders clamors by; iPhones and big screen TVs, dancing maidens and fighting gladiators, angry preachers and crying, starving children, beached whales and missing species. We are stunned into silence. Numb, we thicken our armor and try to forget all about the castle.

This is the Western story of the Grail quest; the esoteric, initiatory tale born in the underbelly of Christian cultures in a time of plague, famine and social breakdown. In the tale the procession included a glimpse of the Grail Maiden, a special feminine force bearing the cup said to contain the blood of the god-man, the anointed one, the Christ. The knight is banished from the castle. Wandering alone, locked in the unforgiving character armor choking off the free flow of breath, that vision of the Grail Maiden stays in our hearts, haunting us with the feeling-idea that there is a harmony to life on earth. What is the grail that contained the blood of the anointed but the body’s very flesh itself? Who is the Maiden but the earth, Gaia holding all flesh?

Years more are spent wandering in The Waste Land.

For the fortunate knights another crisis comes pealing like thunder from the sky. It comes to the ones foolish enough to continue caring, despite the burden it has added to the heavy weight of dealing with the world grown grey and toxic in the mono-vision of the marketplace. Another snapping and again the quester finds themselves in the castle, again they see clearly the king with his mortal wound, unable to die. However, this time the years have changed the knight. He is still a fool yet now there is a sacredness involved. Though the knight cannot see it yet it prompts him to not remain silent anymore. He asks the Fisher King:

What ails you?
What can I do to help?

With a shout of joy the king finally dies in peace. The processions fade and the walls of the castle fall. Astonished, the knight removes his visor to gaze upon the earth. Where once there was grey desert now green shoots are cutting through the crusts. Where once streams full of drugs and poisons boiled, now clear, pure waters flow laughingly. Where once the dreadful pale of silence hung on the air like a weighty gloom, now voices fill the atmosphere with the call of birds, the howling of monkeys and the croaking of frogs. Humbly the knight goes forth, no longer a stranger but completely at home on the earth. In his heart, as wide open as the sky itself, reverberates the lost secret word: yes, and thank you.

Those magical questions move a person’s psychic center of gravity from purely ego concerns to the larger self. Those questions set the knight on the true path. We will look at some practical means of traveling on that path next week.